Sri Lanka designates Kumana Wetland Cluster Ramsar Site as its 5th Wetland of International Importance
This Ramsar Site (19,011 ha; 6°37’N 81°44’E) falls within two existing protected areas, Kumana National Park and the Panama-Kudumbigala Sanctuary. Located South-east of Sri Lanka in the Ampara District, this site consists of a diversity of coastal wetland habitats, including lagoons, estuaries, irrigation reservoirs, mangroves, salt marshes, interspersed with sand dune, scrubland and forest vegetation.
As summarized by Marina Gwilliam, the site provides excellent feeding and resting habitats for a large number of threatened wetland species, including three turtle species such as the Green Turtle (Chelonia mydas),Loggerhead Turtle (Caretta caretta), and the Olive Ridley Turtle (Lepidochelys olivaceae). Other threatened species include the globally vulnerable Mugger Crocodile (Crocodylus palustris), bird species like the vulnerable Lesser Adjutant (Leptoptilus javanicus), and mammals such as the endangered Fishing Cat (Prionailurus viverrinus). The productive coastal wetlands support a thriving near-shore fishery that includes commercially important crustaceans such as Penaeus spp., and Macrobrachium spp., and also offer refuge for their juvenile stages. Locals engage in lagoon fishing and rice cultivation, and also depend on seasonal non-timber forest products such as Woodapple fruits.
The site is famous for its historical values. Around 200 B.C, the area belonged to an ancient irrigation civilization. Caves were occupied by Buddhist monks as far back as the 1st century BC with a few caves being famous for their ancient rock inscriptions and paintings. Threats to the site include disturbance by increasing visitor numbers, increased siltation around lagoons due to cattle grazing while surrounding areas face the problem of illegal logging, poaching and excessive use of chemicals for agriculture. The Department of Wildlife Conservation, under the Fauna and Flora Protection Ordinance of Sri Lanka is directly responsible for managing this diverse and culturally rich wetland.