Mt. Lavinia beach nourishment underway(left) and after sand was washed away.(Right) Photos courtesy Twitter.

The sand that seems to have been washed away from the Mt. Lavinia Beach Nourishment Project, has not gone to waste, but has been carried northwards along the coast, claimed the Director General of the Coast Conservation Department (CCD), Prabath Chandrakeerthi.   It was meant to be that way, he said.

He was addressing a media conference at the Information Department on June 1, to explain the CCD’s position amidst widespread accusations by opposition politicians and environmentalists that the thousands of metric cubes of sand pumped on the Mt. Lavinia Beach these last couple of months have been washed away at the cost of millions of rupees of public money.

The Sand Engine method was used, explained Lilani Ruhunage, an Engineer with the CCD who participated in the conference, where, the sea waves, wind and ocean currents help move the sand along the coast.  In the past ten years or so nearly two to three metres of erosion along the shoreline in the Mt.Lavinia –Angulana stretch has occurred, and currently the same is happening in the Dehiwela area, she added.

The Mt. Lavinia Beach Nourishment project is part of a larger plan to curtail coastal erosion, for which approval had been received in May 2018, with the current cabinet giving the go ahead for the Mt. Lavinia stretch in January this year.  The contract was won by a Danish Company, Rhode Neilsen A/S.  Work on the project was carried out in the earlier part of this year, and even through the months the country was under curfew.  At that time, many environmentalists raised concerns that working during curfew periods meant that there was no room for scrutiny of the project.

At the media conference, Chandrakeerthi defended their decision to work through the curfew, stating that the contractor had three months to complete the work, and a cancelation or delay would have cost the Sri Lankan government Rs. 200,000 per hour as penalty.   Chandrakeerthi also claimed that the cost of the Mt. Lavinia projected was around Rs. 110 million, and that the Rs. 890 million is the amount for the full project which involves Kalutara (Calido Beach), Ratmalana and Angulana.

The Mt. Lavinia project required a150, 000 metres of sand going two metres deep and covering a 600 metre area north of the Mt. Lavinia Hotel.   The CCD states that all of the required sand for the project came from one of its deposits close to Ratmalana and that a total of nearly 800,000 cubic metres was utilised to repair the three beaches.

Erosion can be tackled in two ways; the soft approach which is to dredge and dump sand on the beach or the hard method using rocks and concrete to build sea walls, which is the cheaper option of the two and usually preferred by developing countries.  Sri Lanka, Counterpoint learns has tried a mix of the two.  Chandrakeerthi told the media conference that the soft solution was first used in Sri Lanka in 1986.

Chandrakeerthi claims that beach nourishment generally lasts for four to five years, after which it would require refilling. That poses the question whether it is the most sustainable method for a developing country, given the huge financial input required.

Though Chandrakeerthi attempted to clear the actions of the CCD, by stating that the sand was expected to move northwards, it was obviously not meant to happen in one big chunk.  As the CCD’s Senior Engineer, Sujeewa Ranawaka explained to the media, the sand was meant to move northwards gradually from Mt. Lavinia to Dehiwela.  But those plans seem to have floundered.  ‘The Southwestern Monsoon struck just as the Mt. Lavinia Beach Nourishment project was ending.  Along with that was the bout of sudden inclement weather which brought on a storm. And it is also possible that the effects of the full moon played a part in washing away the sand in this unexpected manner,’ he said.

So was that bad planning on the part of the CCD?   Environmentalist Jayantha Wijesinghe pointed out to Counterpoint that it seems to be the case; ‘they have obviously not factored in something like the monsoon, a yearly and natural occurrence,’ he said.  Moreover, dredging and dumping all of that sand should have included submerged breakwaters to help retain the sand and aid its gradual movement. Submerged breakwaters would slow the pace of the waves, control erosion and control the movement of sand from land to sea, he said. Breakwaters and mangroves also sustain marine life.  “Photos appearing of the beach these days show that at least 2 to 3 feet of the new beach has eroded.’

Moreover, he points out, there are four to five coral reefs found in and around the Ratmalana area and these too may have been affected.  ‘The reefs played a part in mitigating the damage brought on by the 2006 Tsunami in the Ratmalana area,’ he said, pointing to the importance of safeguarding these natural barriers.

Annually, 350,000 tonnes of sand is carried northwards along the Western shoreline, Ranawaka, told the media.  This is sand that flows into the sea from the rivers.  But that is not happening.

‘It is the excessive sand mining going on along the Kalu and Kelani rivers, which means there is not enough sand reaching the sea,’ Ranawaka said.  A fact confirmed to Counterpoint by Wijesinghe.

Erosion along the Kalu Ganga which is being mined for sand on a large scale.
Erosion along the Kalu Ganga which is being mined for sand on a large scale.

The entire issue of this mass scale erosion lies with sand mining as well as the removal of mangroves to make way for hotels etc., Wijesinghe said, explaining that at least a 100 metre buffer zone must be maintained along the coastal areas.  That is not maintained, and no action is taken by the authorities to prosecute those who violate the laws, he added.

The Port City project also resulted in large volumes of sand being dredged Wijesinghe says, adding that though various solutions have been applied in Unawatuna, Oluvil, Negambo etc., no real impact assessments are done later to ascertain the pro’s cons of the projects.

The Calido Beach project which is part of the entire beach nourishment project is a prime example, says Wijesinghe, of previous ill-conceived actions.  In 2017 when there was a great flood in the area, the irrigation department had opened up the mouth of the estuary, to allow the flood waters to move faster into the sea. “When the natural barrier was removed, the river waters became salinated. Now finding drinking water is an issue for those residing along the Kalu Ganga.  Then you will also find at least 40 sand mining pits along the 12 km stretch that leads from Kalutara to Katukurunda which results in further erosion, even along the river banks.’

Responding to allegations that no Environment Assessment Impact had been carried out on the Mt. Lavinia project, Chandrakeerthi states that approval from other bodies is not necessary, as the subject of coastal erosion comes under their purview; the CCD authority covers 300 metres inland and 2 kilometres of the sea.

The CCD actions may have been well-intentioned, but work on the Mt. Lavinia stretch came under suspicion when the project continued during the curfew. Now most of the sand seems to have been washed away faster than planned, resulting in more questions around monies spent and whether or not the problem has been resolved.



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