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Australian company has a plan to mine sands



Mannar Island is a bird paradise that survived Sri Lanka’s civil war

Two thousand flamingos and a war-torn island: controversy over Australian mine proposal

Have you heard of Sri Lanka’s Mannar Island?

Up to a million migrating birds seek sanctuary here each year on their gruelling journeys South, and thousands of flamingos call the island home too.

It’s also home to the survivors of a 26-year civil war, who are still rebuilding their lives and rely on the island for their subsistence livelihoods.

An Australian ASX-listed company wants to mine on the island for mineral sands – a booming global industry extracting vital minerals for a multitude of uses.

But Sri Lankan scientists, environmentalists, and human rights activists are concerned about the impact a mine could have, and dismayed about the lack of information on what’s proposed.

Science Friction investigates.


by environment reporter Nick Kilvert and Jane Lee for Science Friction

As a small child, Shreen Abdul Saroor remembers getting up before dawn with her father to spy on the masses of migratory birds that would visit her island.

The birds were on their way down the Central Asian flyway — a migration path that crosses 30 countries from Siberia to the Indian Ocean.

“We would hide somewhere and … we don’t make any noise,” Ms Saroor recalls.

“[Then we’d watch] them coming and landing in the causeway areas and then catching fish and taking off as a huge group covering the entire sky.”

Up to a million birds stop at Mannar Island, off the north-west coast of Sri Lanka, to feed during the winter.

The Vankalai Bird Sanctuary on the southern tip of the island is protected by the Sri Lankan government and has been internationally recognised under the Ramsar Convention for its importance to both local and migratory birds.

Ms Saroor also remembers climbing the swollen trunks and gnarled branches of the baobab trees — trees synonymous with Africa, Madagascar and Australia’s Kimberley, but also found incongruously on her tiny island.

“Even though I fondly remember these baobab trees, one thing that I really remember is how … [members of the militant separatist group the Tamil Tigers] put the mutilated heads of the Indian peacekeeping forces on those trees.”

The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam fought a 30-year civil war with majority Sinhalese Sri Lankan military, in an attempt to create an independent Tamil homeland in the north and east of the country.

Ms Saroor had already left the island to study in Colombo in 1990 when the Tamil Tigers forced her remaining family off Mannar Island, along with all the other Muslim residents.

“Everybody overnight became refugees,” she says.

Since the war ended in 2009, many displaced Mannar Islanders have returned to re-establish themselves in fishing and farming communities. But the trauma still lingers and there are tensions over land.

Against this backdrop, an Australian company has a plan to mine Mannar’s sands.

There are fears for the island’s fragile ecology, agriculture and fishing areas — and islanders are worried they could be displaced all over again.

Company’s drilling triples estimate of island’s minerals

Mannar is the biggest island at the base of a narrow chain of limestone shoals known as Rama Setu or Adam’s Bridge, which stretches 48 kilometres north-west to join India.

The island is 26km long by 8km wide and has rich deposits of the mineral ilmenite in its sand.

Ilmenite is the main source of titanium dioxide, a valuable white pigment used in things like paints, ink, plastics and cosmetics.

In 2018, Perth-based company Titanium Sands advised the Australian Securities Exchange (ASX) it entered an agreement with Srinel Holdings Ltd to explore the extent of the island’s ilmenite reserves.

In May this year, the company announced their exploratory drilling had tripled the previous estimate — to a total of just under 265 million tonnes.

Managing director of Titanium Sands, James Searle, says the company is looking to mine an area of the island that is 2km wide and about 8km long.

“That’s probably over a 30-plus year lifespan,” he told ABC RN’s Science Friction.

“On an annualised basis that’s probably … in the region of between 10 and 16 hectares.”

But some Sri Lankan scientists and environmentalists say they have been inadequately informed about the project.

‘The machines are moving in’

Ms Saroor’s younger brother is one of those who have made it back to the island, where he has a coconut estate.

“The first time I heard about this Titanium Sands mining is from him,” Ms Saroor says.

“He called me frantically and said there are machines moving in and out of those areas.”

Companies that Titanium Sands acquired started preliminary assessment with small-scale drilling on the island in 2015.

Throughout the totality of their study, which included a scoping study completed this year, the company drilled more than 3,000 exploratory holes with the deepest going down to 12 metres. The majority were between 1 and 3 metres.

According to Dr Searle, there has been no drilling in built-up areas of the island.

“The population on the island is largely concentrated in a town down the landward end of the island, called Mannar Town. There are other coastal villages, other settlements around the island,” he says.

“Our exploration work is only being undertaken on areas where there is no habitation and where there is no active agriculture.”

It’s some of those undeveloped areas of Mannar Island that concern ecologist Sampath Seneviratne, who studies Mannar’s birds.

“Flamingos must be the most charismatic and sought-after in terms of beauty,” he says. “[But] spoon-billed sand piper, one of the rarest birds in the world and one of the most iconic species that are on the verge of extinction right now, has been recorded in Mannar.

“These birds require highly productive places to feed during their migration and during their winter stopover. So if the productivity drops, they can’t use Mannar, they have to go [to] other places.”

According to Dr Seneviratne, a public notice is usually issued when companies are given permission for mining exploration in Sri Lanka.

But he and his colleague at the Wildlife Protection Society only found out from a friend in Australia about the drilling, and they were surprised that local environmental groups knew nothing of the project.

“It was a big shocker, because how did people like us working in [Mannar] not know

Company accused of illegal conduct by Mines Bureau

Earlier this year in June, Titanium Sands was accused of illegal conduct in local Sri Lankan media reports.

The Sri Lankan Geological Surveys and Mines Bureau (GSMB) — the government body responsible for issuing mining and exploration licenses in Sri Lanka — reportedly said the company’s exploration was unlawful.

The GSMB told local media that under Sri Lankan law, Titanium Sands couldn’t legally acquire the rights to explore Mannar by purchasing the company (Srinel Holdings Ltd) that previously held the licenses.

But Dr Searles says the GSMB was “incorrect” and was responding to misleading social media posts.

“The legal advice and the legal structures are in total compliance with the Sri Lankan regulations,” he says.

The ABC contacted the GSMB but did not receive a response.

In November, a committee was put together by the Sri Lankan Ministry of Industry to look into the claims of illegal drilling.

Titanium Sands presented its case to the Ministry of Industry, but Dr Searle says he hasn’t heard anything further.

“I reiterate again that the licenses are held in a fashion which is in total compliance with the legal requirements in Sri Lanka

At the time Science Friction went to air there was no information on the company website about the committee’s enquiries into the project.

Asked why, Dr Searle responded: “We received enquiries on all manner of things and we don’t consider it to be significant.”

The company has since added a statement that says it “is not being investigated” although they have “provided information to the committee” which they say confirms the validity of their licences.

It also stated that the company has “no intention of pursuing a project that potentially impacts a Ramsar-designated area”.

Mannar ‘promoted as a promising resource’

Environmental scientist and senior director of the Centre for Environmental Justice, Hemantha Withanage, says he is concerned he hasn’t heard anything about the committee’s enquiries since the Sri Lankan federal election in August.

But, he says, the picture Titanium Sands is painting for their shareholders is not all it seems to be.

“On their website, they’re promoting Mannar Titanium Sands as a promising resource,” Mr Withanage says.

“How can somebody promote like that, without going through the environmental impact assessment process and getting the government approval?”

“We are very, very concerned about what this company is going to do in Sri Lanka,” he says.

But an environmental impact assessment and public consultation are the next steps in the process, according to Dr Searle.

“That would eventually [lead to], we hope, granting of mining licences and ultimately development of the project,” he says.

Mining would ‘dramatically transform’ the ecosystem

Mineral sands mining is considered to have a fairly low impact on the environment compared to some other forms of mining.

The process doesn’t involve chemical separation of minerals such as in gold mining, or digging vast open-cut pits such as with coal.

Titanium Sands published material online showing the location of their resources including exploratory drill holes near the coast.

Daniel Franks, program leader of the development minerals strategic program at the University of Queensland, says Titanium Sands’ scoping study, released 

to the ASX in June this year, reveals the size of the planned mine is extensive and includes areas just a few metres from the beach.

If the operation was based in Australia, the company would be unlikely to be granted permission to mine those areas, says Professor Franks, who is not involved in the project.

“Mining to such a wide extent would dramatically transform the ecosystem. It would also limit the land uses that the community already has for the island,” he says.

“If it was in Australia, which is the home company of the project partners, it would face some pretty steep obstacles to regulatory approval.”

Mining near active beaches can disturb coastal morphology and removing vegetation can leave sand dunes vulnerable to erosion.

Managing director Dr Searle stresses that his company may not end up being able to mine all the resources they’ve identified, should the mine go ahead.

He says the company doesn’t intend to mine near beaches on Mannar, and that there is no economic incentive for the company to do this.

“Those areas along the shoreline are of no interest to us whatsoever because we consider them to be environmentally sensitive. We are much more interested in the interior, one to three kilometres away from the nearest coastline.”

But Professor Franks says the company’s assertion that it has no plans to mine near the beach “appears contrary to the scoping study released to the ASX” and that an update to the ASX might be in order.

Ms Saroor is also afraid the mine could damage the island’s groundwater.

“Mannar gets the smallest amount of the rain in the whole of Sri Lanka. So we totally depend on groundwater,” she says.

Professor Franks says the extent to which a sand mine could disturb the groundwater on Mannar depends on how deep Titanium Sands digs into the ground.

“I think there is a potential to impact groundwater systems. We’ve seen that in Australia where there’s indurated layers in the sand, that are impermeable and that can hold water,” he says.

“But I think the bigger impact is just the surface disturbance that’s going to happen across the island.”

Dr Searle, however, says the project will not affect groundwater or disturb beach areas.

“If it was to affect the groundwater, we wouldn’t be doing it,” he says.

“How you can make a statement that [this type of operation] would not be permitted in Australia is farcical.

“This sort of operation … has occurred over the last 50 to 60 years [in Australia] with an excellent environmental record.”

‘The people on the ground have the right to say no’

Rather than displacing people, Dr Searle says the mine will create between 200 and 600 jobs and that 95 per cent of those employed would be Sri Lankan people.

But Ms Saroor, who is now an award-winning human rights activist, is concerned about the impact on a community recovering from war.

She believes Titanium Sands should not add to the trauma of a community that is still rebuilding.

“At the end of the day, they are investing in Sri Lanka to make profit,” she says.

“So, my message would be to them to make sure not to profit out of a community that has been suffering in the last 30 years of the war.

“Think about the impact not only on the environment, but also on the people, and [then] make their decision.”

Mr Withanage of the Environmental Justice Centre says he could support the project, if it can be proven to be done in a way that benefits the local community and earns its social licence.

He says the final decision on whether the mine goes ahead needs to rest with the Mannar people.

“It’s not the Australian citizens who are going to make that decision.

“It is the Sri Lankan citizens going to that place, Sri Lankan government agencies, Sri Lankan courts… So they have to make that information available to Sri Lankans first.

“Australians are just going to buy the shares. The people on the ground have the right to say no.” –ABC

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Life style

Don’t shun sunshine Vitamin



While most of us avoid the hot sun at noon, we deprive ourselves of ‘Sunshine Vitamin’ or Vitamin D which is at its peak during that time of the day. In an interview with the Sunday Island, Head of the Department of Nutrition at the Medical Research Institute (MRI) and President of the Sri Lanka Medical Nutrition Association (SLMNA), Dr. Renuka Jayatissa throws light on the latest research which has unearthed new knowledge about this natural nutrient boosting our immunity which we often take for granted.

by Randima Attygalle

Known as ‘Sunshine Vitamin’, Vitamin D is produced by the body when the skin is exposed to sunlight. Vitamin D also functions as a hormone and every body cell has a receptor for it. Sun exposure at mid-day (from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.) is the best way to boost vitamin D levels, says Head of Nutrition at the Medical Research Institute (MRI), Dr. Renuka Jayatissa. “Although morning sunlight was traditionally believed to be the best source of vitamin D, new knowledge confirms that 10 to 15 minutes of exposure to midday sun is the best time to make use of sunshine. The exposure becomes even more important as dietary intake of vitamin D is not sufficient.

The findings of local research speak for the changing nature of vitamin D intake, contrary to the popular belief that those from tropical nations are the most benefitted by this nature’s panacea. While the population from the Central and Sabaragamuwa Provinces are the most vulnerable to the deficiency due to the climatic patterns, the North Central Province is the least vulnerable given the hot climate of the region and the agrarian lifestyle. “The findings also reveal that 50% of adolescents of the country and nearly 95% of women are vitamin D deficient. This situation is alarming as it is a precursor to a host of other health issues including immunity problems, loss of bone density and muscle weakness,” explains Dr. Jayatissa who warns that COVID-19 pandemic has compounded the situation with restricted movement and children being home bound.

The vitamin D intake from the sun depends on the degree of exposure to sunlight. “If you wear long sleeved shirts/ blouses and trousers, it is most likely that you will get only about 10% of exposure with only your face and neck exposed. However if you wear a short-sleeved shirt/blouse and a mid-length skirt or a frock, you will get about 30% exposed,” points out the physician. “What is recommended is about 10 to 15 minutes of exposure daily. However, overweight people and those with a darker skin complexion will require more. While peak period is between 12 noon to 1 p.m. in the afternoon, ironically this is the time that most Sri Lankans tend to avoid the sun, given the humidity of the environment, says Dr. Jayatissa.

“The school interval is limited only to half an hour and this too during mid-morning. As most children may take their first meal for the day during the interval, there is hardly time for play,” observes the nutrition specialist. Recommendations have already being made to the School Committees of the Education Ministry to give children another mid-day break so that they are exposed to the peak period of sun, says Dr. Jayatissa. “Vitamin D is crucial for children on the threshold of puberty (10-15 years) as it affects growth and immunity.”

The rising elderly population in the country too calls for interventions to mitigate vitamin D deficiency as fractures are a common repercussion. Vitamin D deficiency can lead to a loss of bone density which in turn can cause osteoporosis and fractures. “With the elderly population multiplying in years, disability will be an added burden,” warns Dr. Jayatissa. Vitamin D is crucial for calcium absorption and bone metabolism. Low bone density results in loss of calcium and other minerals in bones. Older adults, especially women are at an increased risk of fractures due to this.

Risk factors for vitamin D deficiency are many. Besides lack of exposure to sunlight, having dark skin, being overweight or obese, being elderly, lack of dairy and fish in diet, excessive use of sun screen are among them. “Obesity is a risk factor for the deficiency as increased fat cells in the body require larger doses of vitamin D,” observes the physician who goes onto note that lifestyle patterns too trigger the condition. “Although those who live far from the equator are traditionally considered to be lacking vitamin D, their understanding of this drives them to be exposed to the sun as much as possible. Walking or cycling to work, walking to a cafeteria, traveling to tropical regions during summer etc. push them to bridge the gap. Ironically in our part of the world, apart from farmers and other workers such as those in the construction industry and the manual labour force, people are deprived of sun exposure.”

Since symptoms of vitamin D deficiency are often subtle, many people will not realize that they are lacking it. “However this could affect the quality of life,” remarks Dr. Jayatissa. Height gain is seriously threatened by the condition, she says. “Compared to taller communities such as the Dutch whose average height for males is about 180 cm, Sri Lankan average height is about 168 for men and 153 for women. This may even decrease in time to come, unless the situation is urgently addressed”. Sun exposure as the vitamin D booster cannot be undermined, especially because very few foods such as fish, fish liver oils, egg yolks and fortified dairy and grain products contain vitamin D, notes the nutrition specialist.

Keeping the immune system strong is one of the key roles of vitamin D. During the pandemic, this becomes even more valid as a strong immune system can fight off viruses and even bacteria that cause illness. Studies have confirmed that vitamin D can reduce the risk of respiratory tract infections. “Migraines in young people could also be a cause of the deficiency and muscle cramps in the night among the elderly could also be a strong symptom,” points out Dr. Jayatissa. Bone and back pain, impaired wound healing and even low moods are among the other symptoms.

Certain studies have also found that vitamin D can help treat skin conditions such as psoriasis and eczema. While sunshine can do wonders to your skin and body, too much of it can be risky, points out the physician. “Sun spots as a result of sunburn, skin aging, heat stroke and skin cancer are among them.” Administering vitamin D supplements should always be done on clinical advise as vitamin D toxicity entails its own dangers, concludes Dr. Jayatissa.

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Life style

Leopard human coexistence



WNPS Monthly Lecture

Insights from Jawai India by Shatrunjay Pratap Singh

6 pm, 21st January 2021 via zoom and FB live

Jawai sits right between Jodhpur and Udaipur India. It is known as the land of shepherds and leopards. It is one of the few regions in India perhaps in the world, where human beings and big cats have peacefully coexisted for over 100 years.

Leopards of Jawai is a story of the harmonious relationships shared by the leopards and the local Rabari tribes of the region. Yet this pastoral region of just less than eight square miles in the Aravalli hills between the tourist meccas of Udaipur and Jodhpur contains the largest concentration of leopards on the planet. The leopards’ conspicuous presence is due to a unique relationship with the Rabari, a tribal caste of semi-nomadic cattle herders and shepherds.

With Sri Lanka coming out of the worst ever year for it big cats, with over 13 reported deliberate killings, its important to look at unique stories of harmony between man and the leopards of the region and adapt possible best practices.

Shatrunjay Pratap, a wine-maker-turned-conservationist and wildlife cameraman. He co-authored the book Leopards & Shepherds of Jawai and was the cameraman on National Geographic’s special programme Wild Cats of India. After spending almost all his life with wild animals, he’s learnt and understood nature’s rules and has witnessed the cruel outcome of human beings who don’t respect or abide by those rules.

“There is a deep rooted synchrony between everything we find in nature. Animals and plants, all know their place and responsibilities, while understanding that they are a part of the natural order. We, as humans, foolishly think that we are separate from all of this and therein lies the problem. If we can be humble and accept that we are a part of nature, and not separate from it, we can learn to do things in synchrony with nature, all in a way that is sustainable to all life.” 

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Life style

Bridal and hair trends for 2021



by Zanita Careem

Simplicity in bridals, =short bridal veils, =fresh faced looks and coloured hair

Ramani Fernando of Ramani Salons, an experienced hairstylist who is renowned for her excellent hair cuts and sublime hair colouring.

I have looked after hundreds of brides and its always a privelege being involved in thier big day says Ramani.

Though the big wedding may seem like a distant memory in 2020, brides around the country aren’t giving up on the dream altogether: Adapting to he new normal, this year’s chaos has had a significant impact on the way brides choose to wed, setting a new tone for 2021.

With the arrival of 2021 we’ve tapped Ramani Fernando to give us the lowdown on how bridal fashion has been thrown up- side down in 2021.

“It’s been heart-warming to watch everyone pivot and adjust and continue to celebrate beautiful moments of love in a safe and different format,” says Ramani . Our experience was very interesting, it’s always a little nerve-wracking lexperience something completely new and different, but the more I thought about it, the more it felt like 2021 bride needs right now—simple. elegant, luxurious dresses or sarees.

And through it all, we’ve seen couples get creative with their nuptials, and do away with all of the frills to embrace the day for what it is: a celebration!

So, with that in mind, these are the bridal trends we’re tipping to be huge this upcoming year, from the gown and bridesmaids dresses to the decor and flower arrangements.

Bridal Gown Trends 2021

Arguably the main event for many of us, gowns are usually where we see the most changes happening year-on-year. But this year, all trends seem to embrace individuality and bold statements that aren’t too fussy It’s all about fun and ease in 2021.

According to Ramani, we can expect versatility to be a major point for bridal gowns come 2021. “Brides are opting for chic and simple silhouettes. an understated elegance that results in a dress which can be worn on more than one occasion, rather than living in storage for years to come,” she says.

With this shift,this popular hairdresser says we can expect a continuation of off-whites and neutral tones to dominate. as well as an increased demand in “high quality, luxe dresses which are designed to last a lifetime.”

I think we’ll see splashes of pastel accents. You can never go wrong with a soft colour says Ramani adding that “it doesn’t take away from the bride but it adds beautiful. feminine touch-points throughout the day and experience.”

‘We’re big fans of unconventionally-coloured weddings dresses and with 2020 being such a gloomy affair for many, we’re hoping to see lots of bright aisle’ moments taking place in the new year.

And, while vibrant hues may not be everyone’s cup of tea, the key to making them classic is all in the silhouette. Unlike day-to-day dressing where we recommend keeping shapes and fits simple when playing around with colour, for your big day. Opt for a show-stopping shape that keeps the look chic and elegant

For the brides daring to bare, we suggest opting for a full-length dress that doesn’t distract from the main event.


The best part?

It does wonders to flatter but the flexible elastic allows you to freely mingle and dance without being held down by tight fabric—a win, in the looks.

It goes without saving that a dress just isn’t for everyone. And even those who always pictured themselves wearing a Princess Diana-style monument have found that sarees indian or Kandyan are more suited to some.

And luckily, a host of designers in Sri Lanka are starting to do bridal attires to suit the shape of brides.


We’re particularly loving the chunky tie-up styles as well as the spaghetti strap versions that add a whimsical touch to even the most classic of silhouettes.

Forget sweetheart and scoop, 2021 will be all about square necklines said one the bridal designers.

As we’ve seen in the fashion trend cycle, straight, minimalist necklines are an instant way to dress up an outfit, and can be just as flattering as the deeper-cut options said one of these designers.

The simplicity of this elegant shape means it can be worn with just about any shape or dress length. too.

Bridal Accessory Trends 2021

You’d be forgiven for wanting to keep your accessories low-key-especially if you’ve splashed out on a gown—since it’s a common mistake that they can steal the limelight. Bold and colourful accessorises peacefully coexist with the rest of your took, but it can compliment and even elevate an entire bridal look.

High Impact Headwear

Understated looks certainly have their place, but statement headwear is an exciting addition to any outfit.

Between all the options out there, the world is your oyster, but we’re loving the new classics like chunky headbands and embroidered veils.

The golden rule with these accessories is to keep your makeup and hair looks relatively classic. Nothing suits a headpiece more than a chic. slicked bun a la Miranda Kerr.

Pearls have been the reigning accessory trend this year. and so of course they’ll be popping up everywhere in the bridal sphere.

Look out for pearl-encrusted stilettos and hair accessories that inject a bit of old-school Hollywood glamour.

Non-traditional Footwear I _, , ,

Something that we’re definitely going to be seeing more of in 2021 are darker colour – or the bride and groom parties/

To make sure the looks are more classic than risque or even boring, Ramani has created silhouettes that are flattering and have thoughtful touches like bow details and frilled hems that keep them interesting, all while not stealing any attention.

Traditionally thought to be a bit of taboo when it comes to bridesmaids dresses, prints are slowly gaining traction as a way to introduce some fun into the mix.

Even better, having each bridesmaid in a different dress has also become the go-dewy with a touch of glow. Neutral eyes with shimmer and contour to enhance one’s look. will be popular.

Q: Hair styles, hair colours and haircuts: What do you think the trends will be?


Sleek low buns, hair combed backwards and clipped behind the ears. Even lose hair with waves will be popular.

Q: The haircuts and colours?


Tousled bob haircuts, the hair bobs texlined hair cuts but this will change according to the client’s requirements.

Talking about

the young teenagers they love to colour their hair in purple, red and green. The older folks will be having their perennial favourite colour brown or bronze with darker roots and lighted ends..

A new year beckons new changers. Switching things up with brand new hair colours are fashionable for 2021. The trends right now reflect all that has been happening in our world and our lives says Ramani Fernando.

People are looking to lift up their spirits with new shades or make their lives easier with less maintenance. We hope 2021 will be a brighter year for all. Fashions change style remains.

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