Ecotourism experiences in Sri Lanka: trip report

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Ecotourism experiences in Sri Lanka: trip report

Ecotourism Experience in Sri Lanka: Trip Report

Text and photos by Stam Zogaris and Vasilika Vlamy.

Natural history tourist activities include a range of highly specialized activities (eg bird watching, wildlife photography, planting, diving, etc.). As tropical ecotourism destinations develop, this activity often focuses on protected areas, particularly high-end "parks". Much of the “interaction with nature” apparently also occurs outside protected areas, but is sometimes overlooked in advocacy literature and conservation management practice. In this short report, we provide information from a recent visit to Sri Lanka (late February 2019). We note the importance of an authentic "wider landscape" in the ecotourism experience. And also to help protect it through conservation, education and effective development of ecotourism initiatives.

Materials, methods, directions of research
Two experienced ecotourists, my wife and I, stayed in the following places: Kandy- (3 nights), Mirissa-Polhena-Matara (8 nights), Deniya-Mederipitiya in the Sinharaja Rainforest (1 night). The idea is to immerse yourself in nature, culture and fun (= rest and relaxation) as much as possible. We were also invited to speak at the University of Ruhuna, in Matara, and we also had meetings with professors from the University of Peredinea. We also maintained and expanded contacts with ecotourism specialists before and after our trip to Greece.

In Sri Lanka, we bird-watched from our hotels and guesthouses every morning (morning walk, about 2 hours) and visited and photographed various sites near our residences. We only entered one protected area (Sinharaja Biosphere Reserve) in two days. We snorkeled for 4 days in flat and shallow lagoon conditions (Polen reef flats, near Matara and Parot Island, Mirissa) and also visited some urban areas.

Results and discussions

We saw lots of wildlife inside and outside Sri Lanka's protected areas. It was easy to observe 100 species of birds in 13 days (we had a guide two days later): our bird data was uploaded to the ebird database ( ). Birdwatching is exciting for a visitor to tame Northern Europe or North America, and the site is an excellent introduction to the Indo-Malayan biogeographic realm. It's not just the birds. In almost all the areas visited, the traditional and rural elements and features of the landscape were quite fascinating. This included frequent and enjoyable encounters with the rural population, village life and wildlife including some mammals (especially primates), rich flora and diverse landscapes, including fascinating cultural landscapes unique to the region (eg, etc.). The sea was also very interesting: there were many typical reef fish on dead corals and coral reefs, and we made a list of the types of fish photographed. Several other interesting groups of animals were present (rainforest harpies, butterflies and other spectacular arthropods, river fish, etc.) all of which could be easily observed and photographed in excellent conditions.

Positive aspects of ecotourism development in Sri Lanka

As positive steps taken in the development of ecotourism in Sri Lanka, the following important points should be highlighted. Not to mention the parks and other protected areas, Sri Lanka is a step ahead of many other tropical ecotourism destinations.

Field guides to birds, butterflies, dragonflies, reptiles, and mammals are readily available, and most are up-to-date and well designed for the amateur naturalist. The work of various local and visiting naturalists, including diligent and generous individuals such as Gehan de Silva Wijayeratne, has been instrumental in promoting Sri Lanka as a globally significant biodiversity hotspot.

- A thriving guide industry has developed in recent years, including specialist guides (especially for birdwatching) and local guides in and around protected areas. The guides we met were well trained. Some hotel and guesthouse owners have also learned this and can help tourists explore nature.

- Botanical gardens, especially the Peradeniya Fantastic Botanical Gardens (Kandy), offer spectacular displays and several opportunities for interpretation of native and non-native plants. A legacy of British colonialism and a strong academic interest in nature, horticulture has developed since the country's independence.

- The attitude of the local population towards wild animals is very positive. The birds are not hunted in Sri Lanka due to Buddhist laws and are often not afraid of humans. People are not afraid of various reptiles, such as most snakes and monitor lizards (although they are afraid of crocodiles; saltwater crocodiles still live in Sri Lanka ...)

There is no doubt that Sri Lanka occupies a special place as a showcase for ecotourism in the tropics. After the end of almost 30 years of civil war (2009), tourism in the country began to develop surprisingly quickly. Smart business and marketing choices helped, but the sustainability of ecotourism in Sri Lanka has been heavily criticized (see Newsom 2013).


Of course, it is not surprising that there are serious biodiversity problems in Sri Lanka. Visitors and locals can see it extensively. The rapid local change of the landscape is immediately noticeable, especially near the coast. These include: poorly planned tourism development, planned and advertised new resort skyscrapers on coastal roads (for example, near Galle). Industrial monoculture (palm oil production) and the destruction of natural habitats in forests and wetlands have also been seen in some areas. Landscapes are changing and deteriorating with the expansion of tourism and globalized trade. Moreover, aesthetic aspects that detract from authenticity were widely seen, especially in and around urban areas (for example, a large number of large billboards are found along the coast and generally reduce the authenticity of the landscape).

We feel it necessary to provide our initial ideas as guidelines here:

Efforts must be made to protect the wider landscape, not just Sri Lanka's official protected areas. Every tourist spends a lot of time outside protected areas, and if a visitor wants to make the most of "outdoor time", he will spend most of his time outside protected areas (ie often near hotels or guesthouses and near buildings). the above areas). Many charming semi-natural areas are endangered and degraded near urban areas and along the coast. Landscape conservation at scale should be identified as an important unmet need to be strategically promoted and implemented.

- There are many places of special interest to nature (and tourists) outside protected areas that require some kind of official designation and protection. These "Places of Special Natural Historic Interest" are poorly mapped or advertised, and most are difficult to find and/or see for naturalists and independent tourists. We encourage governments and non-governmental organizations to invest in many new small parks and micro-reserves.

-Tourists must be "educated"; most visitors to the country are unaware of the true nature of Sri Lanka. We believe that there is still a lack of interpretive structures and information to guide tourists or make them more valuable about biodiversity (biodiversity details, not just the general picture of tropical nature, such as the "park scene" and whale watching safari) . ...). Many tourists are interested. Many tourists visit natural attractions. To do this, we recommend a number of nature museums, the national aquarium, numerous publications and online materials. Private tourism stakeholders can also better support these developments in their facilities and facilities.

- Nature guides (trained professionals who accompany nature) play an important role in observing wildlife outside the OT. The issue of training, certification and maintenance of nature guides is important and has been highlighted in Sri Lankan ecotourism (eg Newesome 2013). Universities support the training of natural history guides and many NGOs are working in this field: there is hope for continued natural history education and learning in Sri Lanka (we have seen great efforts in the Sinharaja area). Any further support from the government and the tourism industry in this regard will certainly improve the quality of tourism in Sri Lanka. (Many Sinharaja guides, for example, do not have binoculars, a handy gift that will make their work even more efficient.)

- As in many South Asian countries, garbage and water pollution are visible almost everywhere in Sri Lanka (the situation is definitely much cleaner than in most of India and the Middle East). Western tourists are known to be particularly sensitive to litter in nature. A "clean up nature" campaign would be cheap and could be organized at many levels of government and even in the private sector.

Finally, it is essential that ecotourism thrives in order to maintain the best wildlife viewing experience inside and outside protected areas. We feel that this was somewhat overlooked when we mainly focused on selected PAs (national parks and safaris). Parks cannot save Sri Lanka's vast landscapes and vibrant landscapes, and there are certainly serious threats to biodiversity on this island. This needs to be addressed quickly as tourism in Sri Lanka is on the rise. Biodiversity-rich tourism experiences, especially outside PAs, should be supported and expanded.


D. Newsom (2013) "Recent experiences of ecotourists in Sri Lanka", Journal of Ecotourism, 12:3, 210-220, DOI: 10.1080/14724049.2013.879153

Thank you
We are grateful to the following people and ideas who helped us:
- Professor Asanka Jayasinghe and colleagues from Ruhuna University
-Sumit Jalat, Lavendra Villa Mirissa family and staff.
-Mike Pope, ornithologist from Kuwait (See: )
- Amila Salgado and two excellent local nature guides at the Sinharaja Biosphere Reserve.
- And a special thanks to Gehan de Silva Wijeyeratne for all the support both before our trip and during our meeting in Athens in March 2019.

Mirissa, south coast

The head of the figure near Matara

The head of the figure near Matara

Monitor in the city of Matara

Cultural landscape just outside the Sinharaja Biosphere Reserve


A snake, rumored to be an Indian cobra, crosses the road in Mirissa. During the trip we saw about four snakes.

Loten Sugar Candies, Kandy

Red-bellied silhouette near Kandy

Asiatic Emerald Pigeon near Mirissa
Birdwatching in the high mountain forest in the Sinharaja Biosphere Reserve with an experienced birding guide

The elusive and spectacular island endemic: the Sri Lankan Blue Magpie

Sri Lankan jungle chickens at Deniya Mederipitiya

Middle current fish in Sinharaja. In this photo, striped barbel - endemic with black stripes. Systemic pleurothenia . The rest are the new mahsir of the khudri Tor of the dean . (Thanks to Hiranya Sudasingha for identifying the fish.)

Mid-montane rainforest in Deniya-Mederipitiya; Entering Sinharaj...

This is a former ranger center near Deniya Mederipitiya (Sinharaja Biosphere Reserve), the interpretive signs were old, faded and rusty; Structures like this are important and should be supported.

Supplier of yellow bills near Mirissa

Imperial Green Pigeon near Mirissa

macaques macaques in mirissa

Crested Serpent in Sinharaj (a digital first from the mighty Swarovski)

Yellow-brown Bulbul, Sinharaja

Yellow-fronted barbet, Sinharaja montane rainforest

Moorish Idol, Parrot Island, Mirissa

Chromis Girls in Log, Matara
Cornflowers at Galle Fish Market.

Vasiliki with the girls of the batik factory in Kandy.
We are in Kandy.

One of our good meetings with local specialists; here at Peradeniya: Professors Nimal Gunatilleke and Savitri Gunatilleke - our sincere gratitude for their hospitality!
Meetings with students of Ruhuna University, Matara
Even the most touristy beach on the island had a special atmosphere, Mirissa.

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