Fishing boats anchor at the center of a beautiful sanctuary crushing the delicate coral with the heavy steel anchors; tourists get off the boat and walk on the reef flat; the bottoms of the boats slam into the shallow reef and crush the delicate corals and fish that lived in them. Hotels simply discharged their waste into the sanctuary. This is the story of the Hikkaduwa Marine Sanctuary in Sri Lanka in the 1990s, which is 100 kilometers south of the capital, Colombo, in Sri Lanka. (Sri Lanka is an island nation that lies off the southern coast of India.)
In the 1950s, the same reefs in Sri Lanka were full of beautiful tropical fish, with corals of all sizes, shapes, and colors alive and keeping the reef a safe haven for many different life forms. The same coral reef, by the 1990s, had become a coral cemetery with bleached coral, no, or very few, fish and could practically be called a disaster area.
The Sri Lankan coral reef management realized that they needed to do something immediately or they would lose this precious beauty forever. They formed a coral reef research team in charge of managing these coral reefs. The team here is actually managing the humans, not the coral reef itself, to restore the reefs in this area. The region has come up with several laws to manage the reef. Unfortunately, these laws are not enforced as well in Sri Lanka as they are in countries such as Australia. Not being able to find alternate employment for people whose original employment was destructive to the reef is a major reason for not being able to enforce the law. Regardless, one of the things that the team did was try to put an end to anchoring in certain areas of the reef system. Although this could not be strictly implemented, the corals in these areas still began to show signs of getting healthier. This did not happen overnight; it took them a few years to show very small signs of improvement. Although this is not as impressive a success story as some of the others featured on our site, it still shows that even a small effort on our part to respect the reef can make a big difference!