Saturday, 15 February 2003  
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Declare Karagam Levaya as a sanctuary, says Environmental Foundation

by Florence Wickramage

The Environmental Foundation Limited (EFL) has accused the Government of de-regulating the Karagam Levaya Sanctuary overnight with no public consultation and transparency. Chairman Ravi Algama said that the EFL has urged the Environment and Natural Resources Minister to declare the Karagam Levaya as a Sanctuary with immediate effect since the de-regulation has been manouvered by proponents of planned development programmes and certain politicians.

The Karagam Levaya Sanctuary near Hambantota has been de-regulated by Government Gazette on 24th January 2003 after being declared as a protected area by gazette ordinary in October 2002.

Karagam Lwevaya consisting a lagoon environment is a unique biological habitat of ecological value with a naturally occurring saltern. It provides refuge for waders, flamingoes and other aquatic birds like pelicans, egrets and storks. Considering its special ecological value, Karagan Levaya has been even cited in the Directory of Asian Wetlands (Scott) in 1989. It is well known for its wetland characteristics supporting an appreciable assemblage of venerable or endangered species while supporting around 20,000 waterfowl.

This area of 835 hectares in extent with catchments of 5800 ha. was declared as a sanctuary last year due to its significance as an important wetland.

Ravi Algama said that in 1987 when the Karagam Levaya did not enjoy legal protection the EFL had successfully protected it from unplanned development by filing action in the Court of Appeal against Hettigoda Salt-based Production (Pvt) Ltd. and others thus saving the area from being commercially exploited. Due to de-regulation Hambantota and adjoining areas would face threats of floods while at the same time encouraging encroachments and poaching etc.

EFL says that the laudable moves of the Environment and Natural Resources Minister in increasing the protected status of many new areas (e.g. Kaudulla National Park, Hikkaduwa National Park, Tabbowa Sanctuary etc) would pale into insignificance when areas which have been brought under protection after much agitation like the Karagam Levaya are de-regulated overnight.

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