“For many of us, water simply flows from a faucet and we think little about it beyond this point of contact. We have lost a sense of respect for the wild river, for the complex workings of a wetland, for the intricate web of life that water supports” – Sandra Postel (2014), ‘The Last Oasis: Facing Water Scarcity’
When it comes to attending forums and workshops, mostly everyone is prepared to attend long, tiring and very informative events. This was exactly the first thought that came up into my mind when we were invited to attend the forum. But for my surprise, as soon as I arrived at the forum, I realized that my first impression was not truly right. Soon, the atmosphere was surrounded by cheerful and very energetic young researchers and undergraduates who were eagerly awaiting to join for a quality conversation.
The terms Wetlands or Wetland parks have become more familiarized among laymen as many of the busy suburbs are endowed with number of natural and man-made wetlands which are readily opened up to the general public. It seems as a positive note that many of them are being recognized as important, both regionally and globally.
Wetlands have a great history. Both natural and man-made wetlands were the centers of Sri Lanka’s ancient hydraulic civilization, which thrived for decades forming a hub of cultural, economic and social importance. Although the hidden contribution of these ecosystems are unfathomable and well identified, the ecological health of wetlands is on a downward trend.
In order to address these challenges, an important initiative was taken by Sri Lanka Water Partnership (Lanka Jalani) in organizing the Young researchers’ forum on Wetland Conservation, an interactive forum which initiated a constructive dialogue of a higher research scale on Wetland Conservation and Management in Sri Lanka.
The forum was held on 1st November 2018 at the Mathematics Auditorium of Faculty of Science, University of Colombo with the participation of a bunch of undergraduate researchers from University of Colombo, University of Kelaniya and the Open University of Sri Lanka.
The event provided an opportunity to share lessons learnt over the past years, in wetland conservation and management in different levels. It also addressed the research gaps and future academic and research opportunities regarding wetland conservation.
The forum sailed smooth with the headship of Prof. Deepthi Wickramasinghe, Head of the Department of Zoology and Environment Science of University of Colombo. She gave an introduction on wetlands and its ecosystem services. She mainly focused on the current critical situation of wetlands and of how youth could be powerful agents in addressing these issues. Prof. Wickramasinghe also spoke of the importance of training and capacity building opportunities for young researchers, which was very useful for many of the participants.
Insects play an important role as being excellent models for studies on the ecological diversity and specificity due to their richness, abundance and sessile habit. The next talk was by Dr. Chandima Dangalle, a senior lecturer of Department of Zoology and Environment Science of University of Colombo. Her talk was based on ‘The use of Insects as Bioindicators of Wetlands’.
She began her talk by raising a question on insect orders giving the talk a more interactive nature. As we are all aware, biological indicators are organisms of natural community that can be used to monitor the impact of disturbance to ecological systems. Her explains were supported by solid examples and research studies. According to Dr. Dangalle, only a limited amount of studies have been done so far on this area and she invited the audience to carry on researches and come up with controversial findings for the betterment of healthy wetland ecosystems.
Although Sri Lanka is blessed with plenty of wetlands, most of them are diminishing rapidly with the present urbanization. Pathetically, our wetlands have become the ultimate destination of many of the pollutants making it another garbage dumping site. Addressing these issues on the topic ‘Wetland, Pollution and Solutions’, Dr. Uthpala Jayawardena, a senior lecturer of Department of Zoology of the Open University of Sri Lanka, shared her views at the forum.
Her talk was very informative with more facts on major groups of pollutants affecting wetlands, their impacts and analytical methods of detecting these pollutants. Finally, she affirmed that a collaborative approach in urban planning with the participation of local inhabitants would be much effective in protecting these ecosystems for the future.
Dr. Dimuthu Wijerathne, a senior lecturer of Department of Zoology and Environmental Management of University of Kelaniya spoke next and her topic sounded really interesting as it was a new concept for us. She spoke on ‘Constructed wetlands for water quality management’, a concept, identified as a sustainable waste water management option that has been successfully used for treating waste waters for decades.
Mainly, she emphasized on the two basic flow patterns of CW; surface flow and subsurface flow, their pros and cons and how this concept should be taken forward with exchanging of knowledge, encouraging local researchers and upbringing local technologies.
As climate change increases the severity and heightens the risks of many natural hazards, thus the role of wetlands in natural disaster mitigation is gaining prominence. It is a known fact that wetlands can reduce the impacts of natural hazards although it is taken for granted. In the aftermath of floods and tsunamis, wetlands played an important role in getting communities back on their feet.
Exaggerating more on these aspects, Dr. Devanmini Halwathura, a senior lecturer of Department of Zoology and Environment Science of University of Colombo, presented her views and thoughts under the theme ‘Wetlands and mitigation of natural disasters’. Her talk gave a broader perspective on the importance of investing on wetlands to account their multiple benefits in relation to disaster risk reduction.
The forum concluded with the final remarks made by Mr. Saminda Fernando who was also from Department of Zoology of the Open University of Sri Lanka. His task was to emphasize the fact that ‘Wetlands are the key contributors for biodiversity in Sri Lanka’. He elaborated on every single wetland ecosystem prevailing in Sri Lanka and of how each type has unique features of its own.
“The small Wathurana swamp forest in the wet zone is the only site in the world where the rare endemic trees Stemenoporus moonii and Mesua stylosa can be found”, he shares. This made us realize how Sri Lanka is blessed and gifted with a wide array of unique wetland ecosystems.
The event ended on a positive note with a lot being discussed about the necessity to protect our wetlands and what we can do as individuals.
As the official media unit of the Faculty of Science, we never forget to bring you updates on important events that focus on valuable integral parts of Sri Lanka’s unique ecological and biological diversity. As a responsible media crew, it is our duty to convey the message to a greater audience for a greener tomorrow.
Sometimes words aren’t enough when it comes to wetland conservation; more or less being the change you want to see in the world is the best way to create a positive impression. Thus, this forum indeed initiated and expanded that positive notion in youth; the future leaders, in wetland conservation.
Image courtesy : Isuru Gunarathna