School children to join our experienced volunteers.
In July, we started inviting school children to join our experienced volunteers for Friday afternoon boat trips on the lake where they assist us in removing floating trash and water hyacinths from the water while learning about nature, biodiversity and the need to protect our environment.
Cleaning the Southern end of the Thalangama Wetland at Hokandara Road.
The Thalangama wetland end at Hokandara road remains an environmental eyesore. The photo shows Neil Burke separating organic from inorganic waste dumped near the bridge with the Thalangama lake in the background.
After serving the lake for 3.5 years, Neil Burke resigned for health reasons from his voluntary community service in July 2020. We are grateful for his dedicated service cleaning the streets every morning and evening during good and bad weather.
Our water hyacinth removal activities moved now into those back ends of the lake where the invasive plant continues to grow through seed and vegetative reproduction, till daughter plants are broken off by wind, rain or passing water buffaloes, starting their journey to conquer the lake. As the plant reproduces quickly, 10 initial plants can multiply to over 600 within 3 months. Lakes that are overrun by living and decaying water hyacinths get depleted of dissolved oxygen leading to fish death.
Water hyacinths control continues.
Cleaning the lake area from litter continued throughout the curfew. In late May, we also started again the removal of invasive water hyacinths. Since a few years now, water hyacinths are under full control on the Thalangama lake.
In times of Covid-19
The curfew in the Colombo area due to the Corona virus has also some positive aspects. The amount of trash we normally collect around the lake is now minimal. However, as households are unsure about the waste collection these days (it is working like always!), some dump especially their organic waste into the bush, unfortunately always packed in a variety of plastic bags. After checking with the Thalangama Police, our chief volunteer Neil continues collecting waste around our two lakes on a daily basis. He is keeping social distance and wearing our new shirts, donated by Mr Ravi Botejue from www.bernardsceylon.com.
Ministry of Defense Road
- With the opening of Sri Lanka’s new Army Headquarters in Akuregoda, 08.11.2019, the army also accepted responsibility for maintaining the Military of Defence road. In a significant effort, water bodies were dredged, trees planted, and unused land transformed into paddy fields.
In the news:
- The Thalangama Wetland Watch accompanied these activities in December and January by cleaning the road sides and water ways from trash, discussing with the officers that without addressing the waste problem, the beautification will not be sustainable.
- Different teams of Wetland Watch volunteers tried to address the “Salvinia” invasion in the Thalangama and Averihena lakes (see NEWS FROM THE LAKE). The challenge is that the Salvinia plant is very small, and difficult to harvest, even with many volunteers and nets. This is a very different situation than for Water Hyacinths which we continue to control successfully through manual harvesting.
- The teams tried to create for example a passage through the ‘carpet’ of plants to facilitate its transport out of the area (see photos). The exercise was at least a good team building event and allowed brainstorming about options for mechanical and biological plant control (see also www.fao.org)
Another team, led by Neil, tried to support the flow over the spill-over (see video clip).
Youth engagement: Street cleaning along Battaramulla’s wetlands.
The Thalangama Wetland Watch supported the efforts of the Sri Indrajothi Vidyalaya School in Battaramulla, Sri Lanka, to carry out a street clean-up on July 24, 2019.
The event was co-facilitated with much enthusiasm by Chandra Athulathmudali from the Sri Lanka Association for Friendly Environmental Naturalists. About 25 students between 10 and 14 years old collected over 3 hours 126 glass bottles, 287 PE bottles and other plastic hardware, 197 beer cans and other metal items, and 5.5 cubic meters of other waste along the Ministry of Defence Road starting behind the bridge opposite Sri Lanka's Central Environmental Authority till the bus stop 700 m down the road.
This four-lane road without housing is developing into a dumping ground of waste bags. As every existing bag seems to attract more, the efforts of the students geared at the restoration of the natural environment.
Part of the program, which was also attended by some teachers included creating more awareness about waste separation, which is now mandatory in the country. The Wetland Watch team included the 700 meter stretch in its monthly cleaning program (see Feb/March 2019 news update).
After the Vesak festival in May, a particular type of ‘waste’ was added to our normal routine.
No easy job.
30 months plastic waste free!
- Time flies. For 30 months now, our adopted lakes and paddy fields and the 3.8 km of streets surrounding them are plastic waste free! In fact, they are also free of any other type of waste due to our regular (means daily 50%, weekly 25%, monthly 25% of the roads) cleaning routine. As we are tracing and confronting larger polluters and always seeking a dialog with lake visitors from fishermen to picnickers, we also observe an increasing level of environmental awareness and cooperation, which helps our efforts.
- We continued over the last two months the cleaning of the Military of Defense road (see previous update for a map) and the removal of water hyacinths from the Thalangama lake. Otherwise just routine work.
A new environmental menace is the burning of banners (from particular real estate companies). This leaves a large amount of metal wires behind. The banners are regularly delivered by a black Tata lorry with the number plate DAG 3657.
With volunteers from Sri Lanka, India, UK, Germany and Holland.
With volunteers from Sri Lanka, India, UK, Germany and Holland we cleaned over three days a 700 m stretch along both sides of the Ministry of Defense Road leading from CEA towards the new Army HQ. The cleaning included roadsides and the water bodies running parallel to the road. We did, however, not address the first 50m opposite Central Environmental Authority (CEA) till the first bridge as this needs a special effort by the Sri Lanka Land Reclamation & Development Corporation (SLLRDC) and local market traders.
Waste from one of the three days of collection, before sorting into resources
Another effort in February went into the creation of passages through the water plants in support of water movement also into cut-off areas of the lake (front of photo) where bird droppings are highest and water oxygen levels decreasing.
Removing Water Hyacinths.
These weeks we are harvesting again Water Hyacinths to keep the population of this invasive species under control. The harvested plants are used by farmers as a bio-fertilizer. We are supported by volunteers from Sri Lanka, Germany, India and the Netherlands to clean the lake area in those shallow parts where we find most of the plants, but also from plastics which entered the lake in areas we can not control from the street.
Thalangama Wetland Watch is now two years active!
Our work in numbers:
- In total, we are monitoring about 3.8 km of roads and footpaths within the protection area, or 80 acres (33 ha) of paddy, woodlots and lake surface, and hope to expand this in 2019 also to Hokandara road.
- Over 6 months in 2018, we harvested more than 260 boat loads of water hyacinths on the Thalangama lake and are since then regularly inspecting the lake surface to prevent a new hyacinth invasion.
- 100% of the collected water hyacinths were taken over by farmers to fertilize their soils.
- Since we started two years ago, we collect every day at least one full 90-liter bag of trash at the Thalangama lake, which accumulates till now to about 60-70 cubic meters of trash. In addition we collected since we started about 20 cubic meters of trash at the Averihena lake, and about 25-30 cubic meters of purposely dumped waste along the paddies and irrigation channels at the Pothuarawa and Udawatta roads.
- Based on the analysis from selected weeks, a rough estimate is that over the last two years we removed from the 3.8 km we are monitoring :
- 8400 beer cans and other metal pieces (on average about 80 per week)
- 18400 plastic bottles and other hard plastic pieces (ca. 170 per week)
- 15800 glass bottles (ca. 150 per week), and
- 80 cubic meters of plastic sheets, paper and other waste (about 8.5 full 90-litre bags)
- 100% of the collected waste is being sorted and handed over to the authorities for resource recovery and reuse.
- Our daily efforts include educating lake visitors and identifying larger recurrent polluters to confront them (so far 8 individuals and companies).
- We will continue working with volunteers and students, and are grateful to all community members who are supporting our self-funded efforts!
Joint cleaning with IWMI’s Welfare Society.
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With strong support and engagement from the Welfare & Recreation Society of the International Water Management Institute (IWMI) about 25 volunteers cleaned on Dec 1st, the streets, irrigation canals and paddy fields around some of the most dirty stretches of the Pothuarawa and Udawatta Roads. On just less than 1000 meter of water ways and roads about 25 volunteers collected over 3 hours;
- 280 beer cans and other metal pieces
- 614 plastic bottles and other hard plastic
- 526 glass bottles, and
- ca. 3.0 cubic meter of other mixed waste (plastic sheets, etc.).
The collected waste was sorted and handed over to the waste management authority the same day.
Many different events and developments kept us busy the last weeks.
As an update to our August News on our ‘detective’ work, we can now confirm that we found at four different times the same names in those big black bags which are regularly dumped at the same place near the lake with always the same waste assortment. We also have phone numbers and hope we can soon locate this family to discuss environmental responsibility.
At nearly the same place near the lake, another polluter got busted early October. When the municipal waste cars do not come when expected, private waste contractors offer relief. In this case, one of the Cargills Food City stores in Battaramulla paid a private contractor to accept more than ten bags of food waste. The contractor then dumped his load of expired fruits and vegetables after sunset next to our lake. The load also included two bags full of Cargills cash register receipts, all from the same shop, allowing us to follow up. The store manager confronted the contractor and two days later (again over night) the waste was removed. We wonder where it might be now, and will soon visit the contractor to express our concerns. But thanks to Cargills for taking this issue serious! Such contractors should be blacklisted across all food stores.
IWMI affiliated students did again a great job by cleaning the Avarihena Lake area, Pottuarawa Road, Pelawatte Junction, and the irrigation channels between the Thalangama Lake and the Pottuarawa Road. The channel got recently desludged and with the mud a lot of trash surfaced.
We also started using our new inflatable kayak to reach trash along the shore from the water side.
With the tractor of the waste authorities broken down, the collected waste accumulated at our resource sorting station.
Some wildlife updates:
In the last two months we found two dead monitors, one at the Thalangama lake, the other in the Averihena lake. We buried both animals. As reported previously, we find all kind of dead animals (porcupines, monkeys, cats, rats, etc.) in dumped waste, usually packed in plastic bags. Taking care of their bodies is part of the job we accepted. On the other hand, we are happy when we see species we did not observe at the lake previously, like recently (4 Oct 2018, 21:30 pm) the Fishing Cat.
Photo of the Fishing Cat, by www.wwct.org
A glimpse at our daily detective work
We are not only sorting all waste we find but also trying to identify its source, i.e. the people who dumped it. For this all waste gets checked for any hints, like letters, pay slips, bills, etc. and we have a register of names, phone numbers, photos, number plates, etc. However, unless names appear again and again, or we have witnesses, we are very careful with approaching anyone. We also tried reporting offenders, but realized that our authorities are probably too busy to follow up. But we do it, and we ‘busted’ so far 6 offenders from private persons to companies. A current severe case, which makes us much headache, is described below:
On the Google map, you see four yellow circles which show where this particular polluter mostly dumps his/her waste all 5-6 days in two larger black waste bags. Dumping occurs in the late evening. We find then in the morning the bags in the water beyond the weir (sluice gate) or in the drain of the following side street. What we know from analyzing the waste:
It started about 5 weeks back. So we assume the person(s) moved within the last 2 months to our area, probably living along the Northern or Eastern part of Lake Road. It is a wealthy person or couple with maybe one child, able to shop with few exceptions very regularly at SPAR, with weekly stops at Pizza Hut, Red Orchid and Lavinia bakery. They have at least one larger beige dog (we found much dog hair), eating Pedigree dry food, probably living in-house as the waste always contains significant amounts of (big) dog poo, accompanied by local English language newspapers soaked in Ammoniac (heavy smell), dog urine? The other part of the waste is unsorted kitchen waste (organic rests, coconuts, dish wash bottles, mosquito sprays, dog shampoos, large sanitizer bottles, plastic bags, milk drinks,..…).
We found similar bags recently in another location at the lake, with the same (urine soaked) newspaper, and this included a high society private wedding invitation. So we have a possible name now and know from third parties that these people moved recently into our area, although we do not have their address and 100% proof yet. Thus, before we contact anyone, we have more detective work to do…
Why is a wealthy and probably well-educated family which puts much efforts into ‘cleaning’ within its premises not able to manage its kitchen and dog waste? Or maybe it is their house help (domestic worker) who acts of his/her own accord?
Activities in July: With strong assistance
On 7 and 14 July, we cleaned with the assistance of more than ten students from Horizon Campus, Malabe, as well as some interns and staff from the International Water Management Institute (IWMI), the shoreline, slopes and streets around the Pelawatte lake (Diyawanna Gardens side) and plastic waste which had accumulated in the small tank next to Hemas Hospital (both at the Battaramulla - Pannipitiya Road). The students worked with much dedication, receiving instant appreciations by the local community. A Horizon core team returned on the second weekend to help us cleaning different sections of the Thalangama Environmental Protection Area, starting with the irrigation canals between the Thalangama lake and Pothuarawa Road, the road itself between the paddy fields, and a highly polluted stretch along the Udawatta Road.
Activities in June
The setup of more poles in the Thalangama lake
as resting place for birds.
Photo credit: Sam Vincent
The creation of corridors for free water flow where dense algae infestations
resulted in stagnant water zones.
The cleaning of trash hot spots along the paddy fields
at the Pothuarawa and Udawatha roads. For this
task we need help and ideas on how to prevent
the never-ending over-night trash
dumping at scale.
The installation of debris barriers (meshes) in road drains where
regularly trash is washed into the lake, taking care that
they do not hurt water monitors or prevent
them from passing the barrier.
Struggling with waste dumped at Udawatta Road.
The Water Hyacinth invasion has been successfully stopped
With the help of many volunteers and our staff (Neill and Ravi), we removed since February over many weekends from the lake more than 260 boat loads of hyacinths. For our progression see in particular the March 2018 update. Most of the collected plants have been taken over by farmers to fertilize their soils, the remaining plants we still have to remove from the lake shore.
The green/yellow color on the map shows the lake area where water hyacinths are now under control (status 4 June 2018). The blue spots are areas which still need some final touches. We will give from now on more attention to other invasive plants.
Working hand-in-hand with the Irrigation Department
Our water hyacinth campaign got support from the Irrigation Department. We also inspired some local farmers who are now harvesting water hyacinths on their own to decompose them on their fields.
The challenge of invasive plant species has also been recognized by the Government. Five weed harvesters have been purchased. However, there are too many tanks in Sri Lanka to wait for these machines in Thalangama.
Animals in the dumped trash around the lake
So far we found dead cats, rats, a monkey, a porcupine, a turtle, different types of fish, … you name it. If we can, we bury them and that is it. But what to do with living animals?.
How many hyacinths can a boat carry?
Removing the plants from the lake is the first job. The second job is to empty the boats, and the third the transport of the plants to their destination, here a neighboring tree plantation which receive about 20 cubic meters of fresh hyacinths which are an excellent fertilizer.
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Snapshots from 31 March 2018
The Thalangama Wetland Watch received strong support from the Rotaract Club
of Colombo in cleaning our wetlands from trash and water hyacinths.
Spontaneous community protest helped to prevent illegal dumping of
construction waste in our paddy fields.
Fighting Water Hyacinths.
February 2018 started with emphasis on the quickly spreading water hyacinths on the Thalangama lake. With active support from the CEA and its staff, and endorsed by the Irrigation Department, a group of local residents and interns from the International Water Management Institute (IWMI) started on 10th of February the removal, an activity that is labor-intensive and will continue over many of the coming weekends, depending on the availability of volunteers.
The water hyacinth is an invasive alien species and one of the worst aquatic weeds in the world, able to cover whole lakes within a few months. Native to Brazil and other South American countries, the plant was introduced in Sri Lanka in 1905 as an ornamental plant from Hong Kong. The recent dredging of the Thalangama lake brought many nutrients from the sediment back into the water which supports the growth of the weed. With increasing surface coverage, the plant can easily overtake the habitat of native plants, lower the oxygen levels in the water and kill fish. The Thalangama lake has already very low dissolved oxygen levels between 1 to 4 mg/l (compared with a minimum threshold of 3 mg/l) which does no longer support most species of fish. Please help us getting this weed under control.
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On the third weekend, the impact of the work became visible. Several “islands” of water hyacinths are gone..
Fourth February weekend addressing Water hyacinths and Salvinia (watermoss)
Special attention to the Averihena Wewa, 14-21 January.
To support the flow of flood water from the Thalangama tank to the Averihena tank, and from there towards the Kelani river, the outflow of the Averihena tank currently undergoes rehabilitation work to improve bank protection towards the Athurugiriya Road. Our attention focused on the stretch from the lake to the Amaragoda Road (see map).
With kind support from lake neighbors and the local construction company, a boat and raft could be used. In total, 10 members of the local community, four IWMI staff/interns, and several members of the Wetland Watch core group supported the activities. The focus was on the lake itself, its outflow (canal) towards the Amaragoda Road, local tributaries, as well as the new road along the canal where large amounts of mud (mixed with trash) are deposited from canal dredging.
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Click to zoom
Between 14 and 21 January, about 95% of all visible waste was removed resulting in approximately 60 bags with cans, bottles, styrofoam (regifoam), buckets, plastic bags of all sizes, flip-flops, etc. Waste transport was supported by IWMI. One part of the waste was sorted into different recyclables straight away and handed over to the local waste management service, the rest will be sorted over the coming days.
The trash cleaning along the outflow of the Averihena lake continues every week by local residents with increasing emphasis on tributaries from local settlements. Bamboo barriers are now planned to stop floating trash and simplify its collection.
Cleaning the less accessible parts of the lake..
Cleaning the less accessible parts of the lake with in-kind support of the small boat house.
…while struggling with the regular dumping of larger bags full with diapers in the road-side canal along the lower Udawatta Road, branching off Pothuarawa Road. Water-soaked diapers are extremely difficult to manage.
Celebrating one year of Wetland Watch..!
Working hand in hand with the authorities.
We are celebrating one year of Wetland Watch! Since Nov 2016, our two lakes are – as far as possible - ‘free of plastic and other waste’ and also more than 3 km of the surrounding environmental protection area are regularly monitored and cleaned. Especially in our core area along the two lakes, no new waste gets older than a day. We are proud as this was possible without any external funding, following the motto “If it is to be, it is up to me”.
We are removing - on average - one 90-liter bag of trash per day, generated by lake visitors who enjoy the serenity but unfortunately ‘forget’ their trash of which volume-wise half consists of recyclables (like beer cans, paper, glass and PE bottles). We counted more than 120 glass bottles over three weeks of collection just around the lake. There should be a cash refund also on smaller Arak bottles! In addition, there are every second week a few large bags of diverse waste materials from small industries, shops or households dumped deliberately in drains or the bush, usually after sunset. Also these materials are sorted to recover recyclable resources but also screened for anything which could lead to their source.
Recovered resources from one week of collection.
Looking back at our first year, we like to thank our main partner, the local authority in charge of waste collection, as well as all those who contribute to Neill’s allowance for his daily cleaning job, as well as the about 100 local residents and visitors who regularly express their appreciation for the work.
Looking forward, more educational efforts are needed, and for the sustainability of our work, we need more active members to share tasks and responsibilities. Our main collectors are already over 55 years old; younger volunteers are welcome!
Another success of tracing polluters.
Dumped and again removed waste.
October started with another success of tracing polluters. Just next to the main recreational spot at the Thalangama lake, a truckload of construction waste was dumped overnight (see photo). Fortunately, the pile contained clear evidence leading us to its source, and the responsible estate developer apologized and removed the pile within 24 hours.
Waste that can kill..
A different challenge was observed at Udawatta Road where a so far unknown hairdresser dumped several bags of saloon waste which did not only contain large piles of human hair, small cosmetic bottles etc., but also many razor blades. These blades are not only a threat to anyone removing the waste, but like plastic bags also to our roaming cows which are magically attracted by any waste pile.
Extending the drain cleaning on Parliament Road.
Drain cleaning area
(stretch between the two yellow pins)
On 9th and 10th September, the team extended its cleaning efforts along Parliament Road (see July 2017) to cover now 370 m of the main drain from Pelawatte junction beyond the Ministry of City Planning and Water Supply. This part of the drain is less suffering from indiscriminate dumping, but accumulates in particular plastics washed by storm water towards Parliament lake. Especially the plants in the drain function like a "bar screen" for floating plastics. Again, this was a ‘special action’ aside the routine monitoring and cleaning of the Thalangama lake area.
Lower drain section with "natural plastic screen"
Middle stretch at the ministry
Preventing waste to reach the Diyawanna lake.
With the growing waste problem interlinked with the outbreak of dengue fever in Sri Lanka, a team of volunteers (including several IWMI staff) supported by local community members, did a clean-up of the dirtiest 150m of the drain opposite IWMI-HQ, from Pelawatte junction towards the Ministry of City Planning and Water Supply. Several hours of cleaning was done on July 15 and on July 22, the vegetation was cut, several cubic meter of trash collected, sorted (PE, metal, glass, etc.) and handed over to the authorities. Residents in the locality expressed their sincere appreciation and praised it as a positive example. Cleaning is now being repeated every other weekend.
Udawatta Road, along the Thalangama Environmental Protection Area.
Along the early parts of Udawatta Road (starting from Pothuarawa Road direction Malabe), folks start dumping larger bags of trash on both sites of the road: On the left side of the road under some trees bordering the Thalangama paddy fields and on the right side of the road into the drain which supplies the paddy with irrigation water. As a result, water quality and flow decreased, plants took over, and residents complained about the increasing mosquito numbers. With support of the local waste management department supervised by the Environmental police, dumping place and drain were cleared over two days of hard work. Since then, about 350 m along both sides of the street without housing are cleaned by us once a week. The drain is now flowing again, signboards were erected, and local residents reported less mosquitos. However, the area remains difficult to monitor as parts of the road are hidden between trees and illegal dumping continues. As this is the most Northern part of the area we adopted for cleaning, it would be ideal if another team of residents living closer to the street could adopt this stretch along the Thalangama Environmental Protection Area.
Illegally dumped waste
As a special holiday action, several cubic meters of waste were collected on Christmas eve (24th December 2016) on just 140 meter of the Pothuarawa Road where it is crossing the Thalangama paddy fields between Battaramulla and Malabe. As there are no residential plots on both sides of the road, many folks used the area including its water bodies for illegal waste dumping of usually larger mixed waste bags, construction waste, old TVs, etc. The Wetland Watch team worked 12 hours on these 140 meters to collect the waste, sort it into recyclables and remove it. Passing cars supported the efforts by donating drinks and food. We also fenced parts of the road where most waste was dumped and installed a series of signboards against illegal dumping. Since this action in December, the road over the paddy fields is regularly serviced by us to prevent any new waste accumulation.
Half of the collected recyclables
mostly PE & glass bottles)
September to December, 2016
Weekly collection of trash around the Thalangama lake started in late 2016 as a family activity. Involving our children in the cleaning efforts gave opportunity to give them some fresh air, as well as for environmental education, from water pollution to plastic recycling, or on the sense of community service. And the amounts of collected waste over just a few hours were every time astonishing and a real achievement as the photos show.
Realizing that weekly efforts would not be sufficient to keep the area clean, our efforts became more serious in December when Mr. Neill Burke joined the initiative as full-time assistant, supported financially by about ten community members. At the same time, also the collaboration with the official waste collection operators intensified and the sorted waste gets since then regularly removed from our collection points.