Friday, 1 November 2019

Three eco-tours to experience Sri Lanka’s mangrove forests

In 2015, Sri Lanka became the first country in the world to implement a nationwide scheme to protect all its mangrove forests. Though the island-nation is primarily renowned for its pristine beaches, the shallow waters which hug the coastline are home to some of the world’s most beautiful mangrove lagoons. Explore them responsibly by signing up for one of these eco-conscious tours.

Sri Lanka mangroves eco-tour
The lagoon as seen from the boat tour offered by Muthurajawela Visitor Centre

1. Muthurajawela Visitor Centre, Negombo

For a boat tour of the mangroves, one of the most accessible options is at Muthurajawela Visitor Centre, just a 30-minute drive from Bandaranaike International Airport. The centre has a small museum and runs 90-minute eco-tours, during which you can expect to see a huge variety of wildlife and migratory birds. The centre is run by elected representatives from nearby villages in order to foster a grassroots approach towards conservation efforts. This also gives visitors the opportunity to learn directly from the villagers about the importance of mangrove forests to small coastal communities. Profits from the boat tours are used to employ locals to clean the lagoons once a week, as well as run educational programmes for school children. +94 1 1403 0150

Sri Lanka mangroves eco-tour
A bird spotted while on the Ecowave boat tour at Arugam Bay

2. Ecowave, Arugam Bay

The densest mangrove forests can be found on the eastern coast of Sri Lanka, which makes the popular surfing town of Arugam Bay a perfect jumping-off point for a boat tour. Eco-tours begin in the early morning or late afternoon for the best chances of spotting migratory birds, crocodiles and even elephants. Ecowave’s excursions include transport from your hotel to Pottuvil Lagoon, and its boat tours are run by a collective of local fishermen – this gives them an alternative livelihood during low fishing seasons and ensures community involvement in conservation efforts.

Ecowave also offers tourists a chance to visit a local village before heading home. After learning about the residents’ traditional, eco-friendly methods of cultivating rice, vegetables and spices, you’ll get the chance to taste them too. The tour ends with a family meal in one of the village households. +94 6 3373 0404

Sri Lanka mangroves eco-tour
A view of the lagoon next to Seacology-Sudeesa Mangrove Museum

3. Seacology-Sudeesa Mangrove Museum, Chilaw

For something a little different, check out the world’s first mangrove museum, jointly run by local NGO Sudeesa and US environmental organisation Seacology. In a tranquil setting next to Chilaw Lagoon, visitors can learn about Sri Lanka’s different mangrove species and the huge variety of local wildlife that they support, as well as the important role they play in preserving the coastline. The museum also offers tourists the opportunity to spot some of the wildlife firsthand; call ahead to enquire about boat tours with one of its highly knowledgeable staff members.

If you’re interested in the organisations’ conservation programmes, the centre also hosts a vast mangrove nursery where you can see some of its mangrove preservation efforts up close. The saplings are replanted by women from villages near mangrove forests under a scheme designed to empower them economically while also involving communities directly in conservation. +94 3 2224 8707

Singapore Airlines flies direct to Colombo daily; SIA’s regional wing, SilkAir, flies there four times a week. To book a flight, visit singaporeair.com

SEE ALSO: Geoffrey Bawa’s jungle-festooned buildings of Sri Lanka

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