Salvage, Secure, Restore and Protect Hikkaduwa National Park

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Hikkaduwa National (Marine) Park (referred to in this petition as HNP), is one of Sri Lanka's three existing national (marine) parks, and forms part of Sri Lanka's Marine Protected Areas, a collective protected area that covers a significant portion of the island's territorial waters, as well as its exclusive economic zone (hereafter referred to as the EEZ). Located in the Galle District, itself located on Sri Lanka's globally renowned south - western coastline. Designated as a national (marine) park on the 19th of September 2002, it was originally declared as a wildlife (marine) sanctuary in May 1979, before being upgraded to a marine nature reserve in August 1988, in order to extend its size. Situated in Sri Lanka's lowland wet-zone, HNP is only 102 hectares (or 0.39 square miles) in size, but it is one of the island's most essential Marine Protected Areas (hereafter referred to as MPAs), as it protects one of the island's most important fringing reefs, while simultaneously ensuring the integrity of Hikkaduwa Bay's beaches (through the prevention of unchecked coastal erosion). The reef also forms a natural breakwater for Hikkaduwa Bay, and is home to a wide variety of marine flora and fauna. Examples of "charismatic" marine fauna which inhabit/frequent HNP include Dugongs, Blacktip Reef Sharks, Green Sea Turtles, Hawksbill Sea Turtles and Olive Ridley Sea Turtles, all of which have been declared as either Near-Threatened, Vulnerable, Endangered and Critically Endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (hereafter referred to as the IUCN). A further 170 species of marine or "saltwater" fish have been observed and recorded within the boundaries of HNP, as well as an estimated 60 - 70 species of shallow, tropical corals. Numerous species of marine vertebrates and invertebrates have been documented within the boundaries of the park, and its seagrass beds are a lifeline for both its "charismatic", herbivorous marine fauna and the local fishing communities, whose long - term survival is interlinked with the fate of Hikkaduwa National Park (which unfortunately is heavily threatened as of 2017).

Hikkaduwa National Park's first officially recorded period of overall environmental degradation took place during a global coral bleaching event in 1998, which itself was induced by the El Niño–Southern Oscillation of that year, which resulted in the catastrophic loss of a significant portion of park's fringing reefs. With regards to the live coral cover within the boundaries of HNP, the percentage dropped from 47% to a mere 13% and caused the park's (then still a marine nature reserve) sustainability to virtually disappear overnight. The park has also suffered from exploitation at the hands of humanity, with examples of such exploitation including illegal activities related to both mass - scale fishing and the ornamental fisheries market. Activities such as these are in direction violation of the Fisheries and Aquatic Resources Act (FARC) and the Flora and Fauna Protection Ordinance (FFPO) respectively, but the lack of proper enforcement (concerning such rules and regulations), by the island's Department of Wildlife Conservation (hereafter referred to as the DWC, and the government department which is meant to be in charge of HNP), has left the park in an even greater position of vulnerability. Amazingly, the introduction of eco-tourism related ventures, has actually contributed to the overall environmental degradation of HNP, as opposed to securing and assisting in the park's protection. Excessive visitor numbers to the park, has resulted in a dramatic increase in the number of glass - bottom boats, entering and exiting the park on a daily basis. Such boats have been primarily used to facilitate the expansion of the "boat safari" industry, and combined with the un-regulated, "alternative" visitor numbers (i.e. beachgoers, swimmers and snorkelers), have caused irreparable damage to park's fringing reefs. Certain "charismatic" marine faunal species such as the different sea turtle variants have been (for the last few decades), and continue to be harassed by ignorant, un-educated/misinformed visitors, while local "beach mafias", have made significant financial advancements, through the both illegal and mass exploitation of sea turtle eggs. Certain so-called "development projects" (initiated under the previous government), such as the expansion/extension of the Hikkaduwa Harbour Complex's Breakwater (located to the immediate north of HNP), have caused the accumulation of large amounts of sand, in the immediate vicinity of the park's reefs and seagrass beds, threatening such habitats with destruction through suffocation.

Currently, a few dedicated individuals (local and foreign) are working to save what remains of Hikkaduwa National Park's fringing reefs, despite the lack of any public awareness or overwhelming support in favour of securing/conserving/protecting HNP and Sri Lanka's MPAs in general. This is due to the long-term focus, which has been placed on Sri Lanka's Terrestrial Protected Areas (hereafter referred to as TPAs), and is also a result of the lack of educational content and understanding. It is unfortunate that marine conservation on the island is at such a primitive level, but now more so than ever, the issues facing Sri Lanka's MPAs (HNP included), need to be taken up and continuously pushed, with the various ministries and departments that are involved in these various, on-going and extremely prevalent issues. Please sign this petition, and spread it as far and as widely as possible, so as to save not only Hikkaduwa National Park, but the rest of Sri Lanka's Marine Protected Areas, including the ecologically diverse marine flora and fauna which are very much depending on the restoration and conservation of HNP and the rest of the MPAs, for their survival. Even as of today, (December the 22th), illegal fishery - related activities, mass exploitation, the construction of "development projects" and lousy eco-tourism practices continue to plague the park at an ever increasing rate, and if immediate action is not taken, Hikkaduwa National Park could be lost, before we acquire the chance to restore and properly conserve such a crucial protected area.