Sri Lanka, known for its stunning landscapes and rich cultural heritage, is also home to a remarkable biodiversity that captivates nature enthusiasts from around the world. The diverse ecosystems, including forests, wetlands, and coastal areas, contribute to the country’s exceptional natural heritage. In this article, we will explore the implementation of the National Biodiversity Action Plan (NBSAP) in Sri Lanka, the actions taken to achieve the 2020 Aichi Biodiversity Targets, the support mechanisms for national implementation, and the mechanisms for monitoring and reviewing implementation.
Implementation of the NBSAP
The NBSAP was developed by IUCN Sri Lanka in 1994 as a strategy for the preparation of a National Biodiversity Action Plan. The plan, known as the Biodiversity Conservation Action Plan (BCAP), was approved by the Cabinet in 1998 and published in 1999. The BCAP outlined conservation objectives and recommended actions for priority systems such as forests, wetlands, coastal and marine areas, and agriculture. It also addressed cross-cutting thematic areas like biodiversity information, legal measures, research, education, awareness, and institutional support for conservation. However, the holistic implementation of the BCAP has yet to be realized. A review of its recommendations revealed that inadequate capacities had significantly hampered the implementation of 26 recommendations, while no action had been taken on 9 recommendations. In response, the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources initiated the preparation of an addendum to the BCAP to review the progress made and identify new issues and priorities for a purposeful and comprehensive implementation.
Actions taken to achieve the 2020 Aichi Biodiversity Targets
Several noteworthy achievements have been made towards the 2020 Aichi Biodiversity Targets in Sri Lanka. Forest loss has considerably slowed down, and efforts to eradicate forest encroachments and illegal logging in the biologically-rich wet zone have been successful. Approximately 28% of the land area is now protected, with 60% of closed canopy natural forests or 55% of all natural forests falling under this protection. Mechanisms have been established to prevent and eradicate invasive alien species, a significant threat to biodiversity. Furthermore, targeted recovery plans have been developed for specific species, such as Puntius bandula and the Morning Side Amphibian hotspot at the Sinharaja World Heritage Site. The National Red List of 2012 evaluated the existing flora and fauna species and identified priority areas for research and conservation. Additionally, the rediscovery of an extinct amphibian species from the Peak Wilderness Sanctuary underscores the importance of conserving areas vulnerable to climate change and other human impacts. Biodiversity surveys, focusing on isolated forest patches and areas of high biodiversity value, have been launched by the Ministry of Environment and Renewable Energy. These efforts, along with initiatives to address the human/elephant conflict and the slaughter of small cetaceans and turtles, are contributing to the conservation of threatened taxa. Ex situ conservation programs, including the breeding and reintroduction of endangered species like the Puntius bandula by the Biodiversity Secretariat, have also been initiated. The National Botanic Gardens are actively involved in propagating indigenous orchids, many of which are endangered. Moreover, there are ongoing projects aimed at conserving the genetic diversity of crops and their wild relatives, with economic, food, or medicinal value. Sri Lanka is also making headway in addressing climate change challenges with initiatives like reducing timber felling and implementing environmental impact assessments and pollution licensing schemes. Guidelines for access to genetic resources and benefit-sharing have been developed, and a National ABS Policy and Plant Breeders’ Rights Act have been proposed. Rural industries based on indigenous knowledge have also been explored, with a focus on conservation efforts and traditional practices.
Support mechanisms for national implementation
Several legislative measures and policies support biodiversity conservation in Sri Lanka. The Forest Ordinance (1907), Fauna and Flora Protection Ordinance (1937), and Fisheries and Aquatic Resources Act (1996) are key pieces of legislation in this regard. The National Environmental Act (1980), along with its amendments, and the Marine Pollution Prevention Act (2008) also play crucial roles. These laws are complemented by policies and strategies such as the National Conservation Strategy (1988), National Environmental Policy (2003), National Forest Policy (1995), and the National Action Plan for the Protection of the Marine and Coastal Environment from Land-based Activities (1999). Notably, the BCAP led to the establishment of a biodiversity unit within the Ministry of Environment and Renewable Energy, subsequently upgraded to a Biodiversity Secretariat. This secretariat, along with various provincial biodiversity conservation profiles, has contributed to the integration of the BCAP into local planning and priorities. Key sectoral institutions involved in biodiversity conservation include the Department of Forest Conservation, Department of Wildlife Conservation, Central Environmental Authority, and the Marine Environment Protection Authority. The forest and wildlife departments, in particular, have invested significantly in building institutional capacity for better forest management and conservation. Efforts to promote the sustainable management of coastal resources are facilitated by the Coast Conservation Department, the Coast Conservation Act (1981), and regular updates of Coastal Zone Management Plans. Although overall integration of biodiversity into other sectoral policies is still lacking, positive steps have been taken in national planning and development, tourism, industry, and healthcare. The government’s financial contribution to biodiversity conservation has increased alongside the significant funds provided by external donors, particularly the Global Environment Facility (GEF).
Mechanisms for monitoring and reviewing implementation
The BCAP provides indicators for monitoring the success of meeting CBD objectives through its implementation. In 2007, an Addendum was prepared to update and implement conservation actions. Subsequently, the Ministry of Environment and Renewable Energy established the ‘National Action Plan for the Haritha Lanka’ program in 2009 to address current and emerging economic and environmental challenges. Monitoring activities focus on various aspects such as industrial discharge of effluents, air emissions, noise pollution, fisheries, forests, and coral reefs. While efforts have been institutionalized, there is a need for significant improvement in monitoring activities. Surveys have been piloted in protected areas to assess biodiversity diversity among mammals, birds, herpetofauna, freshwater fishes, and vascular plants. Future plans aim to conduct biodiversity surveys in identified hotspots and establish a regular monitoring system in protected areas managed by the Department of Wildlife Conservation and the Department of Forest Conservation.
In conclusion, the biodiversity of Sri Lanka is a national treasure that demands our attention and conservation efforts. The implementation of the NBSAP, actions taken to achieve the 2020 Aichi Biodiversity Targets, support mechanisms for national implementation, and mechanisms for monitoring and reviewing implementation are all crucial elements in ensuring the protection and sustainable management of this unique natural heritage. Let us join hands in preserving the biodiversity of Sri Lanka for future generations to appreciate and enjoy.