Harbouring over 3,000 species of fauna and flora, the Gulf of Mannar (GoM) is a heaven for fin fish, crustaceans (prawns and crabs), mollusks (oysters), echinoderms (sea cucumber), coelenterates (corals) and aquatic mammals (dugong). Vast areas of sea grass beds are also common in the area.
Acknowledging the species diversity, the Government of Sri Lanka has ear-marked the Sri Lanka side of the Gulf of Mannar to be nominated as a Biosphere Reserve under the Man & the Biosphere Programme of UNESCO.
IUCN Sri Lanka with support from the Mangroves for the Future Initiative (MFF), the University of Ruhuna and the Bay of Bengal Large Marine Ecosystem (BOBLME) Project of the Food & Agriculture Organization (FAO) undertook a rapid biodiversity survey in the GoM and PalkBay as well as a socio-economic survey in the coastal Divisional Secretariat divisions bordering the GoM. The findings revealed the richness of natural, cultural and archaeological wealth of the area and some issues related to extraction of these resources.
An important component of this endeavour is to share these findings with the state agencies, fisher community and other stakeholders. Accordingly, IUCN organized a series of awareness programmes in Mannar and the first of the series; for the Government officials, led by the Government Agent, Mannar was held in November 2010. The second programme targeting school children was held on 17 December at the Zonal Education Office in Mannar and was conducted through training of Master Teachers. Teachers of science, geography, history and social sciences (of Grade 9 to 11) from 31 schools in Mannar District participated. .
A training manual on the Gulf of Mannar and its Environs was prepared for this purpose. A Teaching aid – a CD containing a power point presentation on The Gulf of Mannar and its Environs: richness, issues and sustainable use, a photo catalogue compiled from the photos taken during the surveys and related published material was also given to each teacher to assist them further in taking the message to the students of the Mananr District.
Following this programme, the third in the series targeting the fisher communities in Mannar district was held on 18 December at the Local Government Office in Mannar. . Twenty four representing most of the fisheries societies in all six Fisheries Inspector Divisions together with another eight officials from the Fisheries Department attended this workshop. The discussion held following the presentations on the fishery resources and related issues brought out several important recommendations from the fishing communities on matters related to their livelihood.
Coincidentally, on the day of one of the awareness programme, the Navy and the Fisheries Inspectorate apprehended fishermen who had allegedly killed and brought ashore two dugongs. Dugongs are threatened, and the awareness programmes brought forth the message on conservation through this unfortunate incident
The need for protection of the biodiversity in the GoM is now evident and it is hoped that these awareness programmes will help in conserving these resources.