PROTECT Pasikuda

Let’s not turn this paradise into a graveyard

Text and pix by Anuradha Alahakoon
The calm sea waters stretch up to the horizon. It is the later hours of evening at Pasikuda beach stretch. Many visitors flock to the beach to take a bath and relax in the cool breeze. After the decades of civil war, the roads to the Pasikuda beach has been opened without fear of travelling. As a result, local and foreign tourists arrive in massive numbers to see and enjoy the glory of the pure sands and calm waters of Pasikuda beach.

It is in the east shoreline of Sri Lanka which was an isolated beauty during the civil war. People feared to travel to this area and tour operators didn’t come up with packages for foreigners. Therefore, the beach remained relatively undisturbed. Only users of the beach were fishermen who went to sea for their daily bread. They also went to sea with the fear of attacks by the LTTE. Now all those fears are gone. Human life has indeed come alive full circle in this coastal terrain.

Pasikuda beach owes its beauty for it’s natural setting with a coral reef adjacent to the shore line. The presence of the coral reef places Pasikuda in to a biodiversity rich spot among other such places in Sri Lanka. The coral reef here was recovering from the climatic event el-nino during 1998 which destroyed majority of live coral cover. The reef is relatively undisturbed compared to areas such as Hikkaduwa and rich in coral fish. The different species of corals with beautiful colours and patterns could be seen easily.

Given the attraction of the east coast beaches like Pasikuda, many foreign tourists seem to give their priority here. Without even visiting down south, some like to visit only the eastern coast. Giovanni Carnisno, an Italian tourist, who was staying at a Pasikuda restaurant, says that they didn’t visit any down south beaches as the coast line here is relatively undisturbed “ We visited ancient cities Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa and headed for Trinco. Then we came to Pasikuda and expect to go to Arugam Bay”, he enthuses. As the tour operators also promote the east coast destinations it won’t be long before the tourist flock to these areas.

The small hotel operators are also optimistic and speak about the plans to bringing down new tourist parties. During the war, tourist arrivals became almost zero, but the turn around has opened the doors to a tourist influx in the future.

“We are expecting more and more visitors this year”, says V. Sivakumar, a small hotel owner at Pasikuda. He says that the government also plans a massive hotel development drive to lease out the beach properties to develop the hotels. The large hoardings along the coast of Pasikuda tells the story. The big time tourism is still to come.

The coast line of Pasikuda will not be attractive if not for it’s coral reef. The lagoon remains calm because it acts as a natural break water. If we are to compare Hikkaduwa corals and Pasikuda corals, the latter still remain in its natural beauty. Though, 1998 El nino event destroyed most of the live coral cover, the re-growth was comparatively better in undisturbed areas. Will this planned developmental activity sustain the reef and natural surroundings? Will the influx of tourists be detrimental to these fragile eco-systems. These are some of the questions we should try to answer.

Of course, taking appropriate conservation measures is extremely important for sustaining this natural habitat as well as for sustaining the tourism industry which depends on it. “We are very keen on jumping in to tourism which is short term. We should think about sustainable long term tourism which can go a along with this fragile eco-system.

No streamlining in Hikkaduwa
I do not admire the way tourism is developed in Hikkaduwa where there are no regulations, though it is declared as a national park”, echoes Vimukthi Kariyawasam, a Biodiversity Co-ordinator from IUCN. He points out that we should take examples from countries like Costa Rica and Maldives for a model on how we should develop a high end tourism industry in a eco-friendly manner.
It is interesting to note that some stakeholders in the tourism business in ground level realise the importance of preserving the corals of Pasikuda. Prasanna Samarasekera has just started a glass bottom boat operation and he says some practices in tourist operations are damaging the reef.
“Some people take tourists in their boats and let tourists step in to the coral bed in shallow areas of the lagoon”, he alleges, adding that it breaks the corals and harms the reef. Prasanna has come from Hikkaduwa and he says that the corals are still in a better stage here than Hikkaduwa reef. He stresses that some form of a conservation measure is needed to protect this reef and the shoreline. “I think they should declare this as a sanctuary”, he feels.

Gasoline pollutes water
Glass-bottom boat operations must also be regulated. Too much glass bottom boats will damage the coral reef. Boat engines hitting the corals tend to mechanically damage the reef as well as, too much boats will contribute to gasoline pollution. According to environmentalists, the ideal situation is the battery operated glass bottom boats. “You can smell the gasoline in the water when you dive in an area where you have too many boats such as in Hikkaduwa. One contributor to marine pollution is the gasoline released by the boats. If we are to prevent this we should use battery operated boats or boats operated by hand power”, urges Prassana Weerakkody, a long time coral conservation activist.

According to Prassanna Weerakkody, the coral habitats which have been damaged by the El nino effect in 1998 haven’t recovered properly because of human activity. Undisturbed habitats in the eastern shore line had a good chance of developing in to it’s natural beauty. But the influx of unplanned tourism operations will be detrimental to these habitats. “The areas which had a heavy disturbance didn’t recover fully, from the die back of coral after the warming of sea water by el nino in 1998. The best example is Hikkaduwa. which is still largely a coral graveyard. Relatively undisturbed areas like Barr reef have recovered well up to now. This shows adverse human impact is disturbing the re-growth of corals”, opines Prasanna.

One other group of stakeholders in a beach as in Pasikuda are the fishermen. They depend on the surroundings of reef to get their daily bread. Fishery is an activity which fluctuates daily. They might get a good catch one day and they might loose their luck on the other. Fishermen in our country are still in the bottom of the poverty line. It is not uncommon for the young generation of fishermen to move in to the other businesses like tourism. Often they tend to take tourists by their boats to watch corals and if the practice is not done properly - such as letting the tourists stand on the corals and removing corals to sell be sold to them - the effects will be detrimental.
“We need to educate the people right from the beginning. Activities like glass bottom boats and building hotels is an attraction.We have to regulate those activities in a correct manner such as giving the licence to a selected number of boats and operators with a proper training. Hoteliers too need to adhere to good practices such as proper sewage and waste disposal. Once the damage is done it is irreparable, according to a senior researcher and a coral scientist from National Aquatic Resources and Research Agency(NARA), Arjan Rajasooriya who says that glass-bottom boats and hoteliers operated at will in Hikkaduwa sadly, despite it being declared a sanctuary. There were many conflicts of interest. “If the people who enforce the regulations are not given the due facilities and authority to enforce them there is no use in just declaring the sanctuaries”.

Staff training for a marine national park is not easy. They should be competent enough to work in a marine and ashore line environment. It is totally different from guarding a terrestrial national park. People should take to the water and passionate about it. They should be component in swimming and handling boats. They should be knowledgeable about the marine habitats and conservation issues. Also, they must have uniforms to distinguish them and that will empower them to officially enforce the rules and regulations. Declaring a national park should come with all these pre-requirements.

At present systems to get the approval by doing Environmental Impact Assessments seems to be easy and not very much regulated. There can be many loopholes as getting done the EIA becomes the sole responsibility of the particular tourist hotel planner. The hotel planner pays for it . There should be a mechanism to do the EIA by a responsible authority in a transparent way.

Also experts agree that the present authority responsible for tourism development should play a main role in gathering together the expertise of other departments and when implementing new tourism development projects. “Tourism Development Authority should be the leader in getting together with all other departments and authorities such as coast conservation department and environmental authority”, says Rajasooriya.
There is no question of the need of developing tourism for a country like Sri Lanka which is full of natural beauties. This is one way of generating foreign income which is very much essential for developing the economy. All the hoteliers are now crossing their fingers for a better future in tourism. Surely they are going to invest in this industry which is going to be big. Given this investment surge, the breathtaking beauty of some of the eastern beaches like Pasikuda will surely attract hoteliers in future. In fact, some of the constructions for big time hotels has already begun at Pasikuda.

Amoung all this “gold rush”, if we do not think about the sustainability of eco-systems, that itself will be the end of tourism. If the autorities think that our coast line can tolerate any kind of tourism that is a serious mistake. The coral habitats like Pasikuda can easily become coral grave yards.

Tourist opt for Maldives
We should not forget that tourists who come to Maldives love their coast for it’s beautiful corals and if we lose the corals, the high end tourists will directly fly for better options like Maldives rather than coming to Sri Lanka. It is obvious that now is the time to act for preserving the beauty of Pasikuda Coral Paradise. Other wise it will end up being another Hikkaduwa.


Belly Dancer Dareen

Hips that sway ones senses

Not an easy art to stomach

By Shabna Cader
Nothing is as spectacular or sensual as the art of belly dancing. The way the hips move and slide to the music is unmatchable, and no dancer is as exotic as a belly dancer. Dareen flew down from Dubai, where she is a professional belly dancer and has her own belly dancing studio ‘Dayra’. Her dance acts were a part of Casablanca – Moroccan Food promotion held at the Cinnamon Lakeside during the past two weeks.
Originally hailing from Belarus, Dareen is the creator and organiser of the first International Oriental Dance Festival-”JAWHARA”, in Dubai. Following are excerpts of an interview with Dareen:

Q: Is this your first visit to Sri Lanka?
I’ve been to Sri Lanka before- last year to be precise, for a promotion much like the current one. I have to admit that my first stay was a bit uncomfortable, but this time around, I am more comfortable. I felt quite lonely during my first stay, but this time there is no time to be lonely, with the additional belly dancing classes I have been conducting at the hotel. Throughout the entire week, I have had a minimum of 15 students coming in every day, so it’s been quite an eventful two weeks.

Q: You also have your own belly dancing studio back in Dubai. How do your students here differ from those in Dubai?
I have to be quite honest and say that the Sri Lankan students are very hard working. Arab people tend to want to just have fun and not follow the right methods of learning belly dancing. Some of the students here are actually a part of my class, because they want to learn something, and are quite attentive.
There are difficulties sometimes when giving classes, because some don’t pay attention. It makes it much more difficult on my part, because I have no idea on how to conduct my class, but of course, something has to be done. Back where I live, they would look at me and ask “who are you to teach me”, and I have no comeback. I know this kind of art very well, much more than they would, because this is what I do, this is what I teach. But nevertheless, I love belly dancing, and I will continue to do what I do best!

Q: How long have you been a belly dancer?
I have been belly dancing for a little more than seven years, but I always feel as if I have more to learn. I am never too shy to learn, even from my students.

Q: Why did you choose to become a belly dancer?
I was missing something in my life. There was a time of soul-searching, and one day, at my cousin’s wedding, I saw a belly dancer with a snake around her neck. I was intrigued by her skills and the way she danced. That was when I started learning to belly dance. Fortunately, or unfortunately, for me, there was a growing interest in belly dancing as well. In a matter of three years, I found myself dancing at a function in Dubai, with the very dancer who inspired me to become one myself!
I believe that, if you want something badly in life, something quite realistic, not wild and crazy, that you can achieve it and succeed. I also enjoy writing – I’ve written a few articles on my visits here to Sri Lanka. So there are times when you wish to try different things in life, and then fall across what you’re meant to do with in life. I don’t like being lazy, even though at times I can be, but I always push myself and be as lively and energetic as possible.

Q: What do you enjoy doing most, other than dancing?
There are times when I love to do nothing! After multiple shows and events, I like to stay in my room and be alone. But then, there are also occasions when I am scared of being alone! I love sports – such as swimming. I make my own costumes as well, which is a way of expressing myself, in another way other than dancing. Some dresses have taken me a few months, whilst others have taken me a year to finish, because I don’t devote much time. I like to read as well, but not one, but around three at a time! I don’t like to rush into things by surfing the pages in a rush, wanting to know what’s going to happen. I like to enjoy each page as it is, and let it sink in peacefully.
I also enjoy yoga, and would like to someday, join belly dancing with it, because there are very similar moves.

Q: Are you in contact with other belly dancers as well?
In Dubai, there are a group of belly dancers, and there are times when we do shows together. It’s a challenge by itself, and when I first moved to Dubai, they were quite sceptical to embrace me as their own, but of course, you have to stand on your own feet and be positive.

Q: Does the art of belly dancing have health benefits?
Belly dancing helps with the lower abs section of the body, especially for women who are pregnant and about to give birth. Once such women give birth, they do not have much damage as someone who hasn’t done belly dancing, so there are a couple of health benefits. For someone who is also figure conscious, it is definitely a plus point. Ever since I started belly dancing, I’ve become more confident and have more poise. This art of dancing allows a person to gain more confidence and look like a woman in control.

Q: Have you been through any tough or embarrassing moments during the past seven years?
There are tough times when dancing – I use different materials like sticks, candles and bells, and outfits sometimes, to enhance my performances, because a person can get tired of looking a dancer just shaking her hips. There are also times to get people to dance with me. Sometimes people can be nervous like most are, so it depends if the crowd is lively and energetic.
I’ve been able to learn to balance a stick on my waist, but the first time I saw someone else do it, I thought to myself ‘I will never be able to do it’. But with time, I was able to grasp the art. There was one occasion when I tried to do the act, but the stick just wouldn’t stay on my waist. I tried multiple times, but it just kept falling. I just threw it into the crowd and asked if anyone of them could, like as if it was part of my act! These things happen, but the show must definitely go on!
Back in Dubai, crowd tends to open champagne when they like your performance, and there was a time when the stage had too much of the liquid. I was performing one of my routines and I happened to slip! That was obviously quite an awkward and embarrassing moment, but I had to continue, but afterwards, more champagne bottles were opened, because I kept on dancing.

Q: Do you pick your own music?
Choosing the right kind of music is also very important, and not that very easy to find. There are CD’s available, but you could most often be able to use only one or two songs off the list. So, wherever I travel to, I try to buy different types of CD’s, and also mix them together. I have also asked some of the music to be made personal, like add my name a couple of times to the audio. So there is a variety of music that can be used for belly dancing.
Visit www.orientdareen.com for further information on belly dancing or email dareendance@gmail.com


The food and splendour of Galle Face Hotel

Galle Face Hotel is not only renowned for its unparalleled history and tradition but also for the great dining experience it offers. Dining at the Galle Face Hotel is an experience to be cherished.
The Sea Spray Restaurant is a seafood restaurant in the midst of a bustling city, yet just a few steps away from the Indian Ocean, where you can dine under the stars in candlelight, with the twinkling lights of the distant ships as they lie at anchor near the harbour.

The sound of the sea is music to your ears as you enjoy a gourmet meal prepared from the freshest of seafood. The menu features mouth-watering new creations by the Hotel’s Executive Chef. And they can be accompanied by the wine of your choice from the extensive list available.
And then there is the Veranda Restaurant, where one can order from the A la’ Carte Menu and savour one of the most scintillating sunsets in the evening with a panoramic view of the Indian Ocean. The day begins with a buffet breakfast at the Veranda Restaurant, with a wide ranging menu featuring continental, to American and Sri Lankan items.

The best place in Colombo to watch the sunset, the Checkerboard at the hotel is the most popular venues at which to relax and unwind after a long day at work. A choice of cold beers and exotic cocktails can be the perfect complement to a glorious Galle Face sunset.
Leading off from the main lobby of the Galle Face Hotel – Regency Wing, the Wine Lounge is designed to pay tribute to the hotel’s grand history. Inspired by elements of nature its teak wood floors and wall panelling set the tone for an unforgettable evening. The unusual blend of fabrics used in the interior design, the lighting in fire colours of red, orange and yellow, and the spectacular view combine to create a mood of elegance and intimate luxury.

The music is ethnic, and chosen to create a sense of haunting mystique unique to Galle Face Hotel. The Wine Lounge is more than a place to savour your favourite vintage with friends. It is a lifestyle experience for lovers of fine wines, cheeses and cigars.
‘The 1864’ is a setting of elegance, appropriately called ‘The 1864’, where you will discover the hotels fine dining restaurant paying tribute to its grand history. A wonderful setting promising luxury and comfort, The 1864 is one of the most elegant restaurants serving a fine selection of gourmet specialities.