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When Booming Tourism is Bad News: Sri Lanka's Golden Beaches are in Danger

Aug 09, 2016 04:10 AM EDT
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Environmentalists warn that unchecked development means that some areas in Sri Lanka's palm-fringed beaches are now so polluted that swimming there is a health hazard.

Untreated Sewage in the Water

Tourists have flocked back to Sri Lanka's palm-fringed beaches since a bloody civil war ended in 2009, according to Mail Online.

Thriving hotels and guesthouses pours their sewage, often untreated, into the water, polluting the sea and shore. Even the country's own tourism minister John Amaratunga has stopped swimming in the seas close to the capital Colombo because of dirty water, Mail Online reports.

Every year, there are more than two million visitors heading to the tiny Indian Ocean island, which is more than four times compared in 2009.

Even though this is good news, Amaratunga still conceded that unchecked growth could be having a negative impact on the environment. 

Mount Lavinia, Worse Than a Cess Pool

The problem is most acute just south of Colombo at Mount Lavinia, an upscale neighborhood and resort known for its "Golden Mile" of beach, Yahoo News reports.

Environmental engineering expert Mahesh Jayaweera said the bays in Mount Lavinia are so polluted that people should not bathe in them, adding that faecal contamination is at 60 times higher than the maximum level.

"When you look at the water you won't notice it. But at certain times of the year, the water in Mount Lavinia is so filthy it is worse than taking a dip in a cess pool," he said.

Promoted as a pristine beach that is perfect for snorkeling and is famous for its coral reefs, Unawatuna is found south of the historic port city of Galle and is unfortunately, among the most polluted, according to researchers.

Accumulating Pollution in the North

Yahoo News reports that beaches in the former war zone in the island's north remain cleaner because tourism there is still relatively new but Jayaweera says that the situation there is starting to deteriorate too.

Phys.org reported that Sri Lanka needs to make urgent changes to ensure the tourism industry survives long-term, said Srilal Miththapala, an industry expert and environmental specialist

"A few years ago, we tried to shift the focus from beaches to eco-tourism, but the vast majority still visit us for our beaches," he told AFP. "The beaches predominate the tourism industry and that is why it is absolutely important for us to clean up and protect the beaches." Phys Org reports.

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