This project was granted by the Mangroves for the Future (MFF) initiative and was implemented by the Environmental Foundation Limited (EFL) in collaboration with the Geological Survey and Mines Bureau (GSMB) and the Open University of Sri Lanka. It commenced on September 1st, 2009 and was implemented on November 30th, 2011. The original duration of the project was 24 months ending August 2011, however the projects implementation agency requested an extension in early 2011 which was approved and extended by 3 months to November 2011, once the second monitoring, learning and evaluation visit carried out by the funding agency in May, 2011 was completed.

The project comprised of four key outputs; with a number of activities and sub activities to achieve its objectives.

Project name

Increasing the resilience of coastal and riverine communities to climate change and other threats by conserving the ecosystems of the Maha Oya and associated coastal wetlands in Sri Lanka


Project status




Kochchikade, North Western Province

Outputs 1 & 2

The first two outputs were intended to generate policy and decision support information for river and coastal managers, through a series of scientific research and an economic valuation of ecosystem goods and services. Additionally, this information was expected to be used as the baseline information of the river characteristics and coastline. Many of these studies included extensive field measurements. Some of these studies concluded that more field measurements are required in order to come to conclusions.

Assessment of implications caused by climate change in the project area

A preliminary assessment was carried out through two studies, modelling salinity intrusion to the river and modelling and mapping inundated areas due to sea level rise and river run off. As a result of these studies a model on salinity intrusion was produced and this information will be used for supporting land use planning in the project area and in developing solutions to mitigate the salinity intrusion to the river.

Analysing changes in river and coastal morphology and land cover

This study concluded that natural changes were minimal during the timeline considered, from 1956 to 2010. Therefore, these changes in morphology were attributed to changes cause by human activity. The changes in the land cover in temporal scale, from 1956 to 2010 were drastic and the number of sand and clay mined pits indicated an increasing trend.

Impacts of sand mining

A series of studies was carried out to identify the impacts of sand and clay mining. These included salinity monitoring, studying the lowering of well water levels, carrying out river flow measurements and mined pits. Some of these studies produced baseline data on the river, whereas other studies concluded that sand mining causes increased salinity levels in the river, lowering ground water and water table levels, and leads to the conversion of productive land in to mined pits. A direct correlation between river bank erosion and mining activities in the river could not be established due to insufficient data collected within the study period.

Assessment of pollution in rivers and other water bodies in the vicinity

An assessment on the quality of river and well water was carried out with two studies. The first one was to identify the implications of the fertiliser subsidy granted by the government on the water quality of the river. A pilot fertiliser runoff study carried out in one of the sub-catchments to the Maha Oya showed that excess fertiliser added to paddy fields in the Sandalankawa sub-catchment ended up in the Maha Oya. This caused water quality degradation and triggered eutrophication in stagnant conditions. Additionally, this study was a follow up to the pilot fertiliser run off study carried out by Wikramanayake et al. in 2001 in the same study area. A comparison of the two shows a decreasing trend in fertiliser run off, which is a positive fact.

River and well pollution levels in the vicinity were analysed in the high and low flow areas of the river. The study concluded that the quality of water in the river and some of the wells located in closer vicinity to the river were not acceptable and deteriorated, especially in the areas close to the garbage dump in Kochchikade. Since the number of samplings and the duration of the monitoring were not adequate, it was recommended that further monitoring in this area must be carried out before deriving any conclusion. However, the preliminary conclusions indicated the need for a proper environmental management plan not only for the river but also for the hinterland, as garbage dumping and untreated effluent discharge into the river deteriorate the quality of both river and ground water.

Assessment of the relationship between river and coastal processes

This study was carried out in parallel to the study on investigation of issues degrading the environment. A number of pollution sources along the river were investigated and a comprehensive report was forwarded to the Central Environmental Authority. Two activities were carried out in order to study the relationship between the river and coastal processes, coastal inlets and to make an assessment of shoreline retreat or advancement. The study concluded that sediment transported by the river is crucial in maintaining the sediment balance of the beaches. In the absence of sufficient sediment load to replenish the sand washed away by the sea, coastal erosion is aggravated and causes a number of environmental and socio-economic problems.

Mapping of the ecologically sensitive areas

Mined pits and areas that were to be kept intact from external forces were identified and categorised. Two maps were produced in this regard, one showing mangrove plantations and environmentally sensitive areas and the other showing the categorised mined pits. These maps will be useful in designing a restoration/management plan for the large number of mined pits located in the project area.

Economic valuation

This was carried out to identify the critical ecosystem goods and services that benefit communities. In this regard, two key values – namely the benefits from ecosystems and cost of degradation of ecosystems were calculated for two scenarios, Business as Usual scenario (BAU) and Ecosystem Restoration and Sustainable Management (ERSM). The value of ecosystem goods and services was calculated as LKR 1.7 billion per year for the baseline year. Under the BAU the net present value (over 25 years) of total benefits to all stakeholder groups which included local communities, business and industry and the government was LKR 16.9 million and costs estimated were LKR 10 million. Under ERSM the net present value of the benefits to stakeholder groups was LKR 16.2 million, and costs calculated were LKR 8.6 million, a reduction in both benefits and costs in comparison to BAU. Since the reduction in costs is higher than the reduction in benefits, it can be concluded that the sustainable management of natural resources in the project area yields positive benefits over time. This conclusion has a number of policy implications and the key recommendation is to prepare an action plan and a management plan for the management, conservation and restoration of the Maha Oya and its associated ecosystems, while focusing on ecosystem restoration and sustainable management among other recommendations.

Outputs 3

This output was a combination of stakeholder empowerment at various levels through different means. For national and local level coastal and riverine environment managers, the generated scientific/miscellaneous information instrumental for management purposes was disseminated, and policy and decisions were directed towards a scientific rationale. Although these activities were carried out within 2 years, a number of policy changes and decisions based on the information generated through the project could be considered as a positive outcome of the project. A number of project communication materials were published, such as the Technical Summary (Report) of important research carried out, the report on Ecosystem Valuation, a Policy Summary, brochures and posters, as well as a documentary. The main workshop held for the stakeholders was a forum fostering an open discussion at which all publications were circulated. The media were empowered with a series of forums and an onsite workshop for both print and electronic media. As a result of these activities, a number of newspaper articles were published and electronic media clips were aired.

School awareness programmes were carried out within 3 schools in the project area for improving the environmental knowledge base of school children and sensitising them towards environmental issues and promoting environmental conservation. The enthusiasm of some of the school children for these activities was noticeable. They displayed an improvement in knowledge and behaviour than what was evident at the early design stage of the project.

A number of training programmes were carried out for community groups downstream of the Maha Oya, with the objectives of increasing their economic resilience and providing alternative livelihood options for sand and clay mining related livelihoods. There were no limitations in selecting groups for these livelihoods within the communities, and both gender groups were targeted for benefits. Eight livelihood options were introduced, some of which included shoe and bag manufacturing, inland aquaculture and yoghurt production. These livelihoods proved to be suitable for them and since then have become the beneficiaries’ main source of income with most of them earning a monthly income between LKR 8,000-15,000.

Additionally, community awareness programmes were held in order to make them understand the value of the environment they live in, make them more environmentally sensitive and inculcate their idea of environmental conservation. A number of these programmes were conducted and a reduction in illegal mining activities along the river could be partially attributed to these programmes.

Outputs 4

A number of restoration efforts were made to rehabilitate the degraded areas of the river. These included a scientific approach towards restoration through consultation sessions with experts in the field, establishing a plant nursery and the distribution of plant saplings among Community Based Organisations (CBO), carrying out a study on the degraded areas of the river and proposing a restoration strategy to some of them. Two of the sites were restored with tree planting and simple mechanisms to trap sediment.

These were carried out as sub activities of an integrated approach adopted in ecosystem conservation. In comparison to the conditions that prevailed in the project area two and half years ago, the conditions have improved in terms of the following aspects, the number of illegal sand and clay mining activities reduced, the total of sand and clay mining related income earning people reduced and though it will take at least another decade, the river is slowly regaining its original form. Further, the attitude of the communities has changed as they opted to engage in livelihoods other than sand and clay mining activities. The influential personnel in the project area including the political authority were given awareness and sensitized towards environmental issues and conservation. Additionally, the research activities of the project have triggered a number of other activities among the research community, including the academia. Some of the impacts of the project are long-term, especially where objectives are related to policy changes and the drafting of a rive management plan.

Within this short time, a number of cases were brought to our notice where information generated by the project was instrumental in policy recommendations. These incidents were reported from the GSMB, the Coast Conservation Department of Sri Lanka, the Road Development Authority, the National Water Supply and Drainage Board etc. It is expected to record more policy impacts of the project in the future. Further, the project has triggered a discourse of the river sand mining issue among the stakeholders and it has been given more priority and prominence than before.

To summaries, the project has made many positive impacts and achieved the objectives of the project proposal. Most of these impacts are long term and need to be continuously followed up. Information and reports generated by the project are to be used by other stakeholders for implementation and future follow up is needed in this regard. Finally, this project could be replicated with contextual changes where necessary, and it is recommended to allow project activities to be implemented over at least a 3 year span rather than to hasten implementation as carried out by EFL due to the constraints caused by administration and the delaying of funds. This might add more value to the project and more time would be left for follow up work of the activities.

For additional information and reports on the project, follow the link on the right.

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