Protecting Marine and Coastal Ecosystems in the Face of Climate Change

March 4, 2020

[Colombo, Sri Lanka] – March 4th, 2020 - On Tuesday, March 03rd, 2020, the Marine Environment Protection Authority (MEPA) and the Climate Change Secretariat under the Ministry of Environment and Wildlife Resources of Sri Lanka, in collaboration with SLYCAN Trust and with the support of the Ocean Affairs, Environment and Climate Change Division of the Ministry of Foreign Relations of Sri Lanka, organised a national stakeholder workshop on Community-Based Coastal and Marine Ecosystem Restoration and Addressing Climate Change Impacts in Sri Lanka’ at Cinnamon Grand Colombo. The workshop set out to identify best practices for marine and coastal ecosystem restoration, livelihood development, addressing climate change impacts, waste management and legal enforcement, and Sri Lanka’s climate commitments under the Paris Agreement in the lead-up to the 26th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the UNFCCC (COP26).

In three main sessions, a range of experts explored the links between coastal ecosystems and climate change, ecosystem restoration and livelihood development, and marine pollution, waste management, circular economy, and legal enforcement.

Hasanthi Dissanayake, Director General of the Ocean Affairs, Environment and Climate Change Division of the Ministry of Foreign Relations, spoke on the global impacts of climate change on oceans as well as coastal and marine ecosystems. She provided an overview of the Commonwealth's Blue Charter under which Sri Lanka has become the champion for mangrove ecosystems and livelihoods and connected international commitments to regional and national action. "In 2019, Sri Lanka hosted the first meeting of the Mangrove Ecosystems and Livelihood Action Group under the Commonwealth Blue Charter and we look forward to doing more in future.”

The International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) 1.5C report identified mangroves, coral reefs, seagrass beds, and other coastal and marine ecosystems as highly vulnerable to climate change. Mangroves are also one of the key ecosystems that contribute to addressing the causes and impacts of climate change. Thus, the restoration of mangroves and other ecosystems is crucial to reduce climate vulnerability and risk and increase resilience to climate change impacts among coastal communities.

"Currently, Sri Lanka has around 19,500 hectares of mangroves," stated Nishantha Edirisinghe, Conservator of Forests of Sri Lanka. "Our country has pledged to restore another 10,000 hectares by 2030 and the Forest Department is taking all steps to ensure that these commitments are fulfilled.”

Speaking on the mangrove policy of Sri Lanka, Padma Abeykoon, Director of the Biodiversity Secretariat of the Ministry of Environment and Wildlife Resources, said that “Sri Lanka has many varieties of mangroves. However, most of these species are threatened by unplanned clearing and reclamation for industrial and urban development purposes, tourist resorts, roads and settlements, aquaculture ponds, and the development of fishing ports. Furthermore, increased levels of inorganic ions from agriculture and organic compounds as well as untreated sewage and solid waste disposal have accelerated nutrient pollution in mangrove ecosystems. Sri Lanka has many positive policies and achievements toward conserving and restoring its mangroves and now it is time to ensure that these plans are efficiently implemented.” 

Moving toward waste management and marine pollution in connection to coastal and marine ecosystems, Dr Terney Pradeep Kumara, General Manager of the Marine Environment Protection Authority, stated that “90% of the ocean and coastal waste are generated in the land area. Coast cleanups are not an adequate solution for this, and cleaning up waste at the source is the only way to protect ocean waters. In a country such as Sri Lanka, it’s important for citizens to adopt what we call ISR or Individual Social Responsibility.” He also highlighted MEPA’s initiatives on waste management and pollution control such as the beach caretaker programme, which gives local families an allowance to keep stretches of beach clean.

For the private sector, Michael Jayawardena, Senior Manager at Mitsubishi Corporation, stressed on the importance of corporate social responsibility. “As corporates in the private sector we need to engage in ecosystem restoration and livelihood development.”

“Sri Lanka is highly vulnerable to the adverse impacts of climate change, and its large coastal belt and surrounding waters are threatened by sea-level rise, ocean acidification, floods, and storm surges,” explained Vositha Wijenayake, SLYCAN Trust’s Executive Director. “Mangroves and other coastal and marine ecosystems act as a buffer against natural disasters and protect the coast from erosion,” she continued. “In reviewing climate change commitments in 2020, we could focus on the adaptation and mitigation potential of coastal and marine ecosystems.”

The workshop brought together stakeholders from across all sectors, including national and local government representatives, technical department heads, authoritative bodies including the Sri Lanka Coast Guard and Navy, civil society organisations, researchers, media, and the private sector. 

SLYCAN Trust works to contribute to the collective local and global efforts to address the impacts of climate change, animal welfare, as well as social and economic issues hindering social justice. The organisation achieves these objectives through policy advocacy, action campaigns, ground-level action, outreach and networking with like-minded organisations, awareness creation, and capacity building. 


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About the Author

SLYCAN Trust is a non-profit think tank. It has been a registered legal entity in the form of a trust since 2016, and a guarantee limited company since 2019. The entities focus on the thematic areas of climate change, adaptation and resilience, sustainable development, environmental conservation and restoration, social justice, and animal welfare. SLYCAN Trust’s activities include legal and policy research, education and awareness creation, capacity building and training, and implementation of ground level action. SLYCAN Trust aims to facilitate and contribute to multi-stakeholder driven, inclusive and participatory actions for a sustainable and resilient future for all.