Sunday, September 23, 2007

Coastal Restoration

So the Coastal Restoration Workshop seems to be successful (still have another week), but there are definitely areas we'll need to improve for the next workshop of this type. The 30 participants seem very eager to learn and quick to pick things up, but they don't seem very aware of the basic tenants of environmental work -- especially that of not disturbing what you hope to preserve.

This wasn't always something they could control. For instance, Upul had no idea prior to taking the glass bottom boats out into the ocean in Hikkaduwa that the boats would actually ram up against the coral reef there for us to see it. No wonder there was so much dead coral on the beach. Thank goodness there is very little tourism here right now -- could you imagine if all 15 boats mored here were out hitting the coral! We went to the Coral Museum and the guy said they are constantly trying to get the boats to stop doing that, but they continue to destroy this very precious resource. There is a reason there is so little coral left off Sri Lanka's coast.

That night we went to see turtle nesting. Actually, due to the need to eat every few hours (this is really starting to drive me crazy -- I'm fine with stopping for major meals, but the constant stopping for snacks and then not getting to places in time really frustrates me) meant we missed the nesting part. Here is where we, as the organizers, failed miserably. I just assumed that we were with a group of people who clearly cared about the environment and would exhibit common sense when dealing with wildlife. This was the wrong assumption -- actually I need to stop assuming period. So this poor green turtle was totally terrorized by us. She was huge -- clearly I need to learn more about sea turtles as I thought the green turtles were small, but this one was at least three feet from head to tail. The people showing her to us said she was in her 50's. Anyway, our group shined lights in her eyes and touched her repeatedly and took many, many flash photos. She was running (well, running as much as a turtle is capable) away from us and still they didn't get the hint. I just hope the lights didn't blind her too much that she became dinner for something after she made it into the water.

It was really incredible to see a wild sea turtle up so close. She was beautiful.

The next morning we woke with the sun to see the birds in Bundala Bird Sanctuary. We were to leave at 6:00 a.m. (we got to bed around 1 a.m.), but clearly some people thought it was o.k. to sleep in as we didn't depart until 6:45. We saw numerous shore birds and a Brahminy Kite, which was the highlight for me. I wonder why I'm such a fan of carnivorous birds and animals when I myself am a vegetarian. I also wonder how many times I'm going to take bad photos of a peacock before I finally get one worth showing?

Then we went to see some dune restoration. There are very few healthy dunes here, but since the tsunami there is a new found respect for them. They say you need some major catastrophe to create environmental awareness and I think that is very true here (too bad it hasn't taken affect in New Orleans). Once we checked out the dunes in restoration we went to see healthy ones. They were beautiful.

Of course, a few participants didn't listen to their instructor and I believe we did some fairly noticeable damage to a sand dune by walking down the middle of it. The sand was really beautiful here -- they said the red and black in the sand was a combination of garnet and hematite. Makes for lovely sand really. A note about sand in general in Sri Lanka: it is incredibly sticky. I'm not sure why, but it is practically impossible to wash off and when it is on your clothes it may still be there even after a washing.

Then it was off to see healthy mangroves back at Rekawa (where we saw the turtle). These mangroves are really special due to the large strand of Ceriops tagal, which are rarely 3-5 meters in Sri Lanka, but here are rather tall (though not the 25 meters it reaches in other SE Asian countries). It is so thick in this area that it looks like a rain forest when you are in the thick of it.

It was getting late by this time and some of us had to get all the way back to Colombo. There seemed to be a slight miscommunication because the drivers took us to the Tangalle office and about 30 minutes later Upul arrived yelling that we didn't see the area they are restoring with mangroves and we had to go back. Now, I'm all for learning and all, but it was getting dark and it didn't seem wise to take a group of 30 people into a mangrove restoration site in the dark. Yet back we went, wading through thick, sticky mud to see the newly planted mangroves. I actually didn't go all the way -- it seemed futile to me and as I don't understand the lecture that goes with all this, it seemed even more useless. I hope they didn't trample any mangroves.

This meant, after dinner of course because even though we just had a snack we can't actually skip dinner, we didn't get on the road to home until around 10 p.m. It is at least a five-hour drive back to Colombo. I was very unhappy because I have to get up so early on Saturdays to get to my photo class. Anyway, Piaz is a great driver and somehow despite a Perahera just outside Colombo (at 1 a.m.! this is crazy) he got me home at 1:45. I felt really bad for him because he had to get up the next morning and drive some of the participants to Negombo in the morning. He said around 11, so hopefully he got some sleep. We were both beyond tired as we hadn't slept well due to the mosquitoes (I actually hadn't slept the last two nights because of the mosquitoes -- must be more prepared next time).

Photo class wasn't as good as the last two weeks. I feel like we are repeating information now (the instructors seem to be tag teaming). Or maybe I was just so tired I couldn't actually learn anything new, who knows. I think my photos are actually suffering from this class -- I'm trying to do too much on manual now and they just don't look as good. Or I have a dreaded fungus already on my lenses (people live in fear of this here and now I live in fear, but I'm pretty sure I don't have any yet). Or maybe I'm loosing my eyesight and am unable to focus and thus everything will always be slightly unclear. Or maybe what we saw this past week was too difficult to photograph for me. Whatever it is, I need to fix it -- I can't go through life with mediocre photos. I did get a few nice shots after photo class in the park (see at right).

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