Oh, fabulous Rumassala
Charming sandy beach on Thambapanni
With pearl bead smiles over
Vended wholly! Were you..?
Seashore so mild and Slender
Are you being made,
So much defenseless
By Gluttonous Araliya,
The Black in White
The Peril as guardian?
The foregoing is a slightly modified version of the late veteran singer Gunadasa Kapuge’s famous song about the ruthless manipulation of natural resources of the country. I presumed it would be aptly fit as a prelude to this brief write-up on the devastating consequences on the globally renowned Rumassala sanctuary, Unawatuna beach and exotic coral reef of Rumassala caused by a giant hotel complex which is being constructed by Dudly Sirisena, a well-known local business magnate who is also the brother of President Maitripala Sirisena.
The massive hotel project which includes over 250 rooms covering an extent of 10 acres and 6.1 perches (A.10 R.0 P.6.1) at Yaddehimulla in Unawatuna in the Galle district is currently being constructed on an agreement entered into with the Board of Investment of Sri Lanka on May 4, 2017. The hotel project belongs to the Araliya Hotel Beach Private Limited.
An environmentally exotic and highly sensitive region is at present being terribly devastated by this project.
It was science fiction writer, futurist and undersea explorer Sir Arthur C Clarke, a Britisher domiciled in Sri Lanka, who first exposed Unawatuna to the world, in “The View from Serendib,” and several other writings. Located in the South of Sri Lanka, this once unknown hamlet is home to so much bio- diversity and natural freshness of warm sunny beaches, in shore reef, mangroves, and lush green groves. It was after this exposure that foreigners, albeit in small numbers, began visiting Unawatuna.
Unawatuna beach is recognized as one of the most charming seashores of the world. The tourists who visited Unawatuna in large numbers since its transformation into a prominent tourist destination of Southern Sri Lanka preferred homestead tourism. Hence, Unawatuna is expressly popular and recognized among foreign holidaymakers as a Community Based Eco-tourism Destination.
In a number of his research papers, Sir Arthur C Clarke mentions about the significant magnetic anomaly close to Unawatuna which he attributes to a meteor strike. Therefore, environmentalists and nature activists claim that the construction of a massive 16 story edifice for a hotel complex would in the future, be detrimental to the priceless natural resources in the area, including the Rumassala Sanctuary established and proclaimed under gazette notification 1269/25 of 2003.
Owing to the heavy machinery used at the construction site the entire terrain is shaken. In Rumassala, soil layers considered as very similar to that of the Western Ghats of the Indian peninsula are millions of years old. The location is also a very rare site that can be used for research work on the continental drift. The adverse impact of the giant hotel project is a threat to this biological diversity “hot spot”, ecologists claim.
Due to the fact that the entire zone is shaken owing to the use of heavy machinery at the site the deep-rooted soil layer is fast deteriorating and there are fears it will lead to speedy sea erosion and a possible landslide in the future. A worldwide research carried out in 2011 the area in and around Rumassala and Unawatuna was identified to be the zone with the lowest gravitational acceleration in the world. Such an environmentally sensitive and exquisite locality is being abused due to the adverse consequences of an ecologically destructive project allegedly under the patronage of the President of the country. The Portuguese who were familiar with its beautiful natural look named Unawatuna as Buena Vista which means “Good View”
The rich mangrove within the stretch of land on which the hotel is being constructed is home to exotic plants similar to those found in the Western Ghats of India.
Among the exotic flora there are some rare plants such as “Mal Kaddol” (Bruguier hexangular), “Muna Mal” (Mimusops elengi), and “Diya Danga” (Dolichandrone spathacea) etc.
Moreover, most significantly there are several plants of “Mudu Delum” (Xylocarpus rumphii) on the grounds of the famous “Velle Devol” and on the new hotel site as well which are identified as highly endangered plants in the Red Data Book 2012. It is also reported that there are only 8 such plants throughout the entire island as well as other important endangered plants which should be strictly protected and conserved. However, it is unfortunate that these priceless treasures of nature are being destroyed by the family of the very same authority, who is bound and responsible to protect these vanishing species of flora, the President of the country who is also the Minister of Mahaweli Development and Environment. Has the President allowed this ancient ground to become the burial grounds of these rare plants, ask the people of the area!
The authenticity of the Environmental Impact Assessment issued on this project is also being questioned and disputed as a number of endangered species live along this stretch of land.
Dr Herrich-Schäffer, a German entomologist and physician discovered for the first time from this region some special species of mammals and reptiles including a butterfly identified as “Dark palm dart” (Telicota ancilla) , “Kurulu Goya” (Accipiter badius ), “Vehi Lihiniya” (Hirundo sp:), and “Rathmuhunath Kottoruwa” (Magalaima zeylonica)
Meanwhile, an ancient Canal which flows to the sea through this expanse of land is also currently blocked owing to the ongoing construction work of the hotel. An attempt by owner Dudley Sirisena to discharge waste water in to the canal, known as the “Olanda Ela’, (Dutch Canal) which meets the sea at the Rummassala Coral Reef, was blocked by the people of the area, following a meeting with Sirisena and officials of the Coast Conservation Department.
The worst allegation connected to the project is that the hotel management plans to release 60% of waste water after treatment to the sea on completion of the project. Waste water treatment is a complicated process which needs a scientific approach as it consists of numerous toxic constituents.
If the owners release waste water with toxic constituents into the sea it will have serious impact on the beautiful corals and marine creatures.
In his research paper, Thomas Goro mentions that there were over 480 species of marine creatures in the related areas of Rumassala Coral reef. That was before the tsunami catastrophe of 2004.
Nevertheless, marine biologists affirm that many of those diverse marine organism and plants are existent to date. The sea waters around Rummassala and Unawatuna are already polluted owing to the illogical and irresponsible disposal of waste of diverse sorts into the ocean. It is clear that a scientifically formulated methodical environment plan is the need of the hour.
Regardless of the real issues of the Unawatuna tourism area, the Ministry of Environment and the Coast Conservation Department are sponsoring a disastrous environmental manipulation by a business tycoon.
It is a punishable offence to abuse wildlife and plant life under the Fauna and Flora Protection Ordinance. If any individual or an organization acts against the environmental provisions of the ordinance such a person should be dealt with legal actions.
Instead of preserving the environment the respective ministry and the department which come under the purview of the President are providing protection and support to his brother to manipulate environmental laws according to his whims and fancies. It must be remembered that national assets and resources are not a legacy of a ruling family.
The mega Araliya hotel project if not regulated appropriately and objectively will eliminate the ecological appeal of Rumassaala and Unawatuna where people have lived peacefully since time immemorial. It is time the public rallies together to protest against these destructive moves by greedy entrepreneurs.
(Translated by Mahinda P.Liyanage)
When contacted by Counterpoint, CEO of Araliya Group of Hotels Palaka Perera stated that “There will be so many people who will say a lot of things when someone starts to construct something. Even when building a house. But, we can assure that we are not violating any of the existing laws that are in place by constructing this complex.”