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 Post subject: Muthurajawela - A unique nature reserve
 Post Posted: Sun Sep 04, 2005 3:10 pm 
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Muthurajawela - A unique nature reserve

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What happens to Negombo Lagoon affects Muthurajawela marsh, and vice versa: they form one single, continuous coastal wetland. The area measures some 7,000 ha between Colombo in the south and Negombo in the north, pinched between the ocean and the airport road. Twice daily the high tide brings seawater into the wetland, while fresh water from a watershed of 720 km² discharges at the junction of the lagoon and the marsh. Continuous mixing of these two waters has led to a brackish ecosystem, with high productivity and high biological diversity. Many species of fish, shrimps and crabs spend a part of their life in the shelter of mangroves and sea-grass beds; they support a multimillion fisheries industry in the lagoon and along the coast.Both the marsh and the lagoon house numerous plant and animal species, of which many are rare or endemic.The protected estuarine crocodile reproduces here, large numbers of migratory birds come here for resting and feeding, and the area is known for its beautiful butterflies, of which the caterpillars feed on the abundant (mostly medicinal) plants.


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On a historic ride along Muthurajawela

By Gertrude De Livera
@ Sunday Times

About an hour's drive from Colombo is a vast marsh Muthurajawela, home to a number of creatures, from fish, lobsters and prawns to birds of many species.

This marsh was once said to be a stretch of prime paddy land. The name Mutturajawela it is said derives from the paddy that was grown here. The rice got from this paddy was said to resemble little pearls - "Muttu", hence the name Mutturajawela.

This stretch of paddy land was said to have belonged to the King and so was called "Raja wela". Of course, in those days all land belonged to the King, but sections of it were allotted to 'Goiyas' or farmers to work the land and a portion of the produce was given to the King by way of tax. Those who supervised and collected this tax also received a portion. So there was no deprived or neglected section of the community. Everybody who could work got something, and the farming rights went from father to son.

Yet this order of things changed when Sri Lanka was subjected to foreign domination. It is said that the ancient "Ela" which fed water to the paddy fields was enlarged into a canal. The original "Ela" was said to have been built by King Parakrama Bahu VI.

During the period of Dutch rule the enlarged canal was extended right up to the Oya nearby and then to the Negombo Lagoon. The Dutch did this to establish a system of transport by water, but it played havoc with the paddy fields, for the brine from the lagoon came into the paddy lands and spoilt the paddy. The farmers were forced to give up paddy cultivation and this vast stretch of paddy land became the marshland which is Muthurajawela today.

However today the Muthurajawela marshland is a unique nature reserve. One should visit the Mutturajawela Visitor Centre on the Pamunugama Road, Ja-ela to see the wealth of information it provides on this marshland area - booklets, videos, slides and knowledgeable guides.

The guide will accompany you on the boat ride which takes about one and a half hours and give you a first hand account of the fauna and flora and ecology of the area. It is truly a most fascinating experience - this boat ride. One goes slowly along the old Dutch canal, passing abandoned paddy lands till one comes to Dandagamuwa Oya, and then beyond on to the Negombo lagoon.

The guide will show you some wonders of nature - plants which extend their roots down to the water and then below into the mud. These grow and extend till there are little mangroves in the larger parts of the waterways. Our boat took us to a wonderful spot in the waterway where we were surrounded on all sides by the mangroves with just a little space for the boat to go in and come out.

On the way you can observe other plants. There is the beautiful Manel flower, the pink and white variety of lotus, the veta-keiya and hamba pan used for making mats, the kaduru tree and the wel-atha. We saw quite a number of the pink and white lotus flowers lifting their heads from the water.,

We were told that there was a community of about 3000 people who made a living from the marsh-fishing, mat weaving, making curios etc. The people who dwell on the marshland live in small wattle and daub houses or plank dwellings. They use little boats for transport on the canal.

Muthurajawela today has a population of about 3000 people leading a very marginal existence. If it is possible to reclaim this area and turn it in to the once thriving paddy land it was, it could well be the granary of the Western Province once again.


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