Vidathaltivu is a coastal village in Mannar district in the Northern Province of Sri Lanka which consists of a war affected and a marginalized community. Vidathaltivu Nature Reserve (291.8 sq. km) is a Marine Protected Area (MPA) which has been declared in 2016 by the Department of Wildlife Conservation and contains extensive areas of sea grass meadows, mangroves and a coral reef called the Maldiva Bank (coral island). Existing mangrove forest, lagoon, Indian Ocean and the existing coral reefs provide invaluable resources for the coastal community members in the Vidathaltivu village to depend on. However, due to unsustainable resource utilization patterns, most of these resources are now been overexploited.
Dynamiting in the coral island is a common practice to catch the fish endangering the reef habitat and fauna. Use of mangroves as fuel for cooking, cutting mangroves for poles which are used in anchoring stake nets and to use of mangrove branches as kraals in squid fishery threatens the existing mangroves. Increased gill net fishery and bottom trawling have increased the sea turtle and dugong by-catch in the area and also destroy the sea grass meadows which are immensely important for the productivity of many fish, shrimp and crab species and also provide feeding habitats for endangered green turtles (Chelonia mydas) and dugongs (Dugong dugon). Overfishing has resulted in reducing the fish catch and fish size considerably. Disposal of trash directly in to the open environment results the increase of marine debris. These unsustainable fishing practices have led the community to suffer both economically and environmentally. Ghost nets, another type of marine debris having a significant impact on sea turtles, are commercial fishing nets that have been lost, abandoned, or discarded in the ocean. Ghost nets are responsible for entangling and killing thousands of marine fauna such as sea turtles, fish, whales and dolphins, crustaceans, and sea birds. In addition, ghost nets are responsible for damaging coral reef habitats by entangling and smothering reefs and introducing parasites and invasive species into coral reef ecosystems.
Inadequate alternative livelihoods in Vidathaltivu are a social issue that leads the community in to poverty and drives them to engage in illegal practices such as dynamiting and bottom trawling etc. Inappropriate waste disposal cause the increase levels of health issues in the community and will reduce the quality of the environment which will ultimately have a negative impact on their livelihoods as the quantity and quality of the ecosystem services provided by an ecosystem considerably depends on the healthy factor of an ecosystem.
In response to the issues described above in Vidathaltivu village, the Turtle Conservation Project (TCP) implements a community based project with two major components to alleviate poverty and to conserve the environment. Introduction of livelihoods will divert some fishing folks in to some other alternative livelihoods and some of the un-employed community members will have a new livelihood option. Proposed education and awareness programmes will increase the knowledge on environment and about the sustainable use of natural resources contributing to the conservation and management of marine and coastal resources in Vidathaltivu area. Increased awareness will lead to the attitude changes positively within the community members enhancing the social cohesion, environment protection, health improvement and poverty eradication. At the end of the project duration, it is expected to have a model project that can be replicated in anywhere else in the world to demonstrate the wise use of marine and coastal resources by coastal communities through education and incentives.
The project is titled “Enhancing Wise Use of Marine and Coastal Habitats by Coastal Communities through Education and Incentives in Vidathaltivu, Mannar” and implemented during the period of May, 2018 and March 2021. The Project is primarily funded by the UNDP GEF SGP, Sri Lanka (www.gefsgpsl.org) and in addition to the GEF SGP, the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium (USA) and the Sea Turtle Inc. (USA) provided co-financing during the implementation of this project. Although the project was heavily affected by the Covid-19 pandemic situation, TCP was able to complete the project benefiting the local communities and the environment. TCP implemented this project in collaboration with the Vidathaltivu Eco Tourism Society (VETS) as a local project partner.
Main Goal of the Project:
Reduced impacts of destructive fishing practices on coastal habitats and increased income-generation opportunities to local communities in return for the wise use of natural resources in Vidathaltivu area.
Objectives of the Project:
- To considerably reduce coral dynamiting, sea turtle by-catch, mangrove destruction and marine debris through incentives and education in Vidathaltivu.
- Increase community income through the introduced livelihoods.
Key Activities completed during the project:
- Train 18 community members as tourist guides.
- Provide equipment such as furniture, binoculars, field- guides etc. for VETS society
- Print 5,000 copies of a tourism promotional leaflet and 3,000 copies of a tourism promotional poster
- Develop a website for tourism in Vidathaltivu
- Provide water and electricity facilities for the VETS building
Sewing Training Programme
- Provide sewing training for 10 community members
- Provide a set of tool kit for all the beneficiaries after the completion of training
- Initiate Sewing products buy-back programme
Ornamental Fish Breeding Programme
- Provide training for 5community members
- Provide two tanks (5ftx10ft) each for 5 beneficiaries after the completion of training
- Initiate ornamental fish buy-back programme
- Conduct 10 educational programmes on Mangroves, coral reefs, dugongs, sea grass, sea turtles etc.
- Design and print 4000 copies from each leaflet on Mangroves, coral reefs, and sea turtles
- Design and print 1000 copies from each poster on dugongs and sea turtles