Wedithalathive (Vidattaltivu) Nature Reserve is an amazing complex of interconnected ecosystems that drives every activity there and beyond.
It is made up of four main type of ecosystems, seagrass, mangrove, mud flats and the salt marshes. Each of these ecosystems corresponds and speaks to one another. Mud flats and salt marshes absorb the salt that comes with the tide, and effectively block the salt entering inland, so that at the periphery of this reserve, towards inland, we have thriving agriculture, consisting of coconut and paddy.
The salt marshes in this area are the natural depositor of sediments. Nutrient rich sediment is thus retained within the country, protecting Mannar area from erosion, and silently guarding the shoreline and protecting its fertile soil.
The heart of this nature reserve is mangroves. It is one of the last remaining continuous mangrove stands in the country, that to date, has been providing the fullest services of a thriving ecosystem, to people.
From the seaward, Vidattaltivu mangroves have protected people living there against all the natural disasters such as storms surges and tsunamis etc. From the landward, this is the sponge that absorbs storm water and prevents damages to houses and property from floods.
The system therefore, manages all the fluxes of sediment, water and salinity, and in turn has created a complex interdependent ecosystem engine, where different species can survive. It is these thriving assemblages of species that are harvested by people as shell and fin fish.
When moving from salt marshes to mangroves and into coast, seagrasses can grow effectively because sediments have been trapped by the mangroves. It is in these seagrasses many fish and other marine organisms tend to breed and live, and seagrass itself is home to the rare Dugong (Dugong dugon).
Beyond that point, water is as clear as many filters have conditioned the water, so that corals can thrive. This amazing harmony of ecosystems and the way they interact with each other is the secret for Vidattaltivu to be recognized as one of the best landing sites of fish, shrimp and crabs. It is said that the flavor of harvest from this area is so unique, and incomparable to any other area. This has been the main income for all the communities, not only in Vidattaltivu, but also in the periphery. In fact, about 15% of the fisher population in Mannar are from Vidattaltivu and they earn a stable and a decent income from this rich and complex ecosystem. This has been highlighted in the report produced by NARA too.
The world renowned blue swimmer crab (Portunus pelagicus) captured at Vidattaltivu brings foreign currency earnings and is therefore, of significant economic value to the country. This nature reserve has many other reasons to qualify for the current status as a protected area. These rich ecosystems, particularly the mudflats, host many native and migratory birds on the Central Asian Flyway. Over one million birds have been recorded during a single sighting in Vidattaltivu mudflats by the Ceylon Birds Club. This is the reason why close to 25 government agencies, together, decided to protect this area following a comprehensive Strategic Environment Assessment conducted for the Northern Province between 2009 and 2014 (Fig. 1 and Fig. 2). This assessment also identified other alternative areas that can be used for fisheries development and potential tourism opportunities for the Vidattaltivu region.
Sri Lanka as a signatory to the RAMSAR convention, and the lead country for Commonwealth Blue Charter on Mangrove Ecosystems and livelihoods, has an obligation to protect these rich ecosystems which are not only home to many species, but are thriving sources of incomes for communities involved with artisanal fishing and agriculture. If so, why should someone destroy this ecosystem complex to culture exotic shrimp, mud crab, tilapia and carp? Aren't there any alternative lands?
Why does this nature reserve continue to be productive? It is due to natural and healthy interconnections between the mangroves, salt marshes, mud flats and seagrass habitats of Vidattaltivu.
Let us protect the complexity and integrity of the Vidattaltivu ecosystem and the positive impacts it has on communities around it.
Figure 1 Existing and proposed wildlife conservation areas (Source: Mallawatantri, A., Marambe, B., Skehan, C. (2014) Integrated strategic environmental assessment of the Northern Province of Sri Lanka, Final Report. Central Environmental Authority, Disaster Management Centre, Sri Lanka. [www]. https://www.iucn.org/sites/dev/files/content/documents/2017/isea_north_final_report.pdf, (accessed 05.09.2020))
Figure 2 Proposed development vs Forest, Wildlife and Archaeological sites (Source: Mallawatantri, A., Marambe, B., Skehan, C. (2014) Integrated strategic environmental assessment of the Northern Province of Sri Lanka, Final Report. Central Environmental Authority, Disaster Management Centre, Sri Lanka. [www]. https://www.iucn.org/sites/dev/files/content/documents/2017/isea_north_final_report.pdf, (accessed 05.09.2020))