Holy Land Tour (Palestine and Israel)
by Lalin Fernando
We were a group of 48 that visited the Holy Land (Palestine and Israel) in mid- September 2018. Guided by Bishop of Galle Dr. Raymond Wickremasinghe the group, now sadly 47 as one died on the tour, came back bonded by an experience of a lifetime with a spiritual predisposition. This was in the land of the three Aramaic religions with over 5,000 years of history dating back to Greek, Roman, Persian, Byzantine, Islamic; Crusader, Turkish and British mandate times. Much of it was violent, bloody but more was epochal and inspiring in an exceptional Mediterranean land.
We arrived in Amman, Jordan from Abu Dhabi on a Monday morning. The Israeli border crossing check point palaver which apparently could at times be a six hours ordeal, took us only about 45 minutes. This was most probably due to our tour manager Ms. Thusahari’s tremendous experience (over 20 tours), confidence and efficiency and of course the Bishop’s personality.
Crossing over to the Israeli side we had what was to be a trade mark warm greeting from Sonia, who some thought at first was one of our tour party. An Arab Christian born in Nazareth in Northern Israel, she was our very able guide. With a never failing sense of humour and politeness she kept us closely engaged. At the churches she made sure she was heard above other guides briefing their groups, while Bishop Raymond would translate into Sinhala and elaborate if necessary. Her briefings were delivered in precise and clear English. She asked us to note that much of the land was below sea level, a novel experience.
Our coach driver was gentleman Jameel. On our return to Jordan, it was ebullient Hussein who we were told was not from the Royal family! Both were excellent drivers especially when negotiating the spectacular mountain roads.
This is a fascinating land divided unequally and by force between Jews and Arabs. The UN in 1994 ordered Israel (Resolution 142) to hand back Arab land taken by conquest in 1967.This has not happened. Instead the Arabs were given certain areas designated as Palestinian Authority A and B. One, like Bethlehem, is policed by Arabs and the others like Gaza by Israelis. Provisions for the status quo of the holy places in Palestine are governed by the Treaty of Berlin (1878), so fortunately Israel is bound by it too. While there are parts that look like any first world country, some others saddened us.
We crossed over the Allenby (General, later Field Marshal) Bridge. It was Allenby, called ‘Bull,’ that led the British Army into Palestine during WW1 with the help of Colonel TE Lawrence’s Arab Forces. They had defeated the Ottoman Turks who had ruled most of Arabia for 400 years (1517-1918).The Arabs however were betrayed by the Brit ‘Bloody Balfour’.
We had a tasteless lunch in a restaurant overlooking the northern end of the Dead Sea that is about 300 feet below sea level. As we proceeded inland the scenery was breathtaking. Soaring mountains, bare of trees and greenery were interspersed with deep valleys in this part of the Levant (Cyprus, Jordan, Israel, Palestine, Lebanon and Syria). Later on we were amazed to see Israeli plantations with mangoes the size of coconuts and four ft tall coconut trees despite geography and rock hard soil. However due to overuse of scarce ground water, the Sea of Galilee which is the main source for Israel’s water, is drying up rapidly.
We saw armed soldiers in many places reminding us sadly of SL pre-May 2009. It excited some who photographed them despite warning notices not to do so. These were clearly young reservists of the crack Israeli Forces. They looked scruffy and bored.
We arrived in the late evening Monday at the impressive four-star Orient Palace Hotel, Al Sahel St, Bethlehem in Palestine. It is pronounced Bethlaham from Bait (House) laham (lamb). Apparently a butcher ran a mutton shop there centuries ago. We showered and struck out for the small shops close by. Our favourite was the Hezar sweet shop run by Issa and his son. We made friends and quickly struck bargains for an assortment of exotic nuts and Arabic and Turkish sweets. US dollars were the preferred currency. Nobody wanted Palestinian dinars!
Our wake up calls were at 5 am on the first three days after arriving, 4 am on one day and 3 am on the Nazareth (longest day) visit. This was necessary in order to be at the religious sites before hundreds of other tourists swarm in. The churches are open even at 5 am. Late arrival could result in considerable delay in entering the churches. As SL is two and a half hours ahead of their time, getting up early wasn’t much of a hassle from our normal waking up times.
The weather was glorious with clear blue skies, if also hot. It was ideal for the climbing and walking that we had to do daily. We drank a lot of water having been warned of heat stroke.
We set off each morning with inspirational Catholic piety, the Bishop leading in prayers and the singing of hymns. (The group had about three Anglicans and one Buddhist too) His Lordship was stern occasionally to make sure we did not waver in focus and purpose. We ended each day with Mass at the last church visited.
The churches made up in atmosphere, character and awe what they may have lacked in Western grandeur. The mosaics, stained glass windows with limestone or marble floors and columns were there but in dark, ‘moody, broody’ churches, lit with an assortment of brightly coloured lamps. Some were in humble stone buildings but they attracted pilgrims from all corners of the world in their thousands throughout the year. The Chinese were the most numerous from Asia.
On Tuesday we visited The Basilica of the Nativity, the birth place of Jesus. One enters it through the 4-foot by 2-foot Door of Humility. It is to make sure that by ‘pride and ego’ cannot enter. It was first built in the fourth century by Queen Helena, mother of the first Christian Roman ruler, Constantine. Burned down in a fire, it was rebuilt by Byzantine Emperor Justinian in the sixh century.
A 14 point silver star marked the place where Jesus was born. This was removed, probably by the Greeks in 1847, but was later replaced in 1853 by order of the ruling Ottoman Turks. It was a bit underwhelming as it was in urgent need of repairs, said to cost US$ 17 million. The Palestinian Authority (98% Muslim) and many countries including Jordan have contributed.
When the Persians invaded in 614 AD and torched almost all the churches, they spared this church as they believed the mosaics there depicted three women in Persian dress. Co-located is the Church of St Catherine where Christmas midnight Holy Mass is celebrated with teeming crowds.
We followed the Pilgrims route that included Shepherd’s Field, Manger Square and the Milk Grotto where Mary hid the infant Jesus from the Roman soldiers before her flight to Egypt. Apparently the white rock nearby indicates drops of milk.
We visited Mount Zion the site of the Last Supper Room, below which is King David’s tomb. The one mile ridge of the Mount of Olives that used to be covered with olive trees has a breathtaking view of Jerusalem with the Dome of the Rock covered in gold leaf, dazzling. The Garden of Gethsemane where some of the olive trees are over 900 years old lies at the bottom of the ridge in the Kidron Valley
The Basilica of Agony (Church of All Nations) is by Gethsemane. It is built over the rock on which Jesus spent the night in prayer before his betrayal by Judas and crucifixion. Its interior is purposely dark and the ceiling, painted dark blue, evoking the night time of agony.
We also visited Emmaus Abu Ghosh, seven miles from Jerusalem where Jesus appeared before his two disciples after his death and resurrection and had a meal. We saw the Church of St Peter in Galllicantu where the cock crowed for the third time as Peter thrice denied Jesus. The dungeon where Jesus was humiliated, assaulted and imprisoned by the Jewish High Priest Caiphas before he was tried is under the church. We also went to the Dormition Abbey on Mt Zion where Virgin Mary’s statue lies in peaceful slumber.
In the gorgeous hillside neighbourhood on the road to Jericho was the Franciscan Basilica of Visitation in Ein Karem, commemorating the visit of Mary to her cousin Elizabeth. This is where Mary sang her hymn of praise, the Magnificat (Latin-‘My Soul’). It is inscribed on its walls in 62 languages. It was banned in three countries as being revolutionary!
We saw the Golden Gate that is permanently closed but through which it is believed by all three religions that the Messiah will enter in latter days, the Chapel of Ascension (the caretakers are two Muslims), Pater Noster the church of the Lord’s Prayer (now in 140 languages), Pool of Bethesda where Christ cured a man who was crippled (with a noisy Indian tour party disturbing everyone). What is said to be the print of the right foot of Jesus can be seen at the Chapel of Ascension.
The left foot print is in the Al Aqsa shrine, apparently not a mosque, which is where the Muslims believe Mohamed made his Night Journey to Heaven, having arrived from Mecca.
On Wednesday we visited beguiling, bewildering and wonderful Jerusalem. There was over-excitement in presence of history, beauty and belief. Yet it is a city under tension as a 400 mile long 84 foot high wall cruelly encircles the West Bank Palestinians. Jerusalem’s name came from the Hebrew ‘Yerushalayim’ meaning the City of Peace.
We entered the walled Holy city after the Church of St Anne, dedicated to the mother of Virgin Mary, via St Stephen’s gate (Lion’s Gate).This is where the first Christian martyr was stoned to death. We walked on the Via Dolorosa (The Way of Sorrows – Way of the Cross) to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher (Calvary). The Jews (who else?) believe the route was different. The tour party, three at a time, took turns to carry the Cross (brought disassembled from SL) from station to station.
Sadly, the death of 80year old Mrs. Violet Perera due to a heart attack occurred in front of the Church just before noon. She had carried the cross twice. Her sister was present. The Bishop joined the paramedics in desperate resuscitation efforts. He and tour manager Thushari completed all formalities with the Israeli police including contacting the next-of-kin of the deceased in Negombo, all within two hours. Regrettably the SL Embassy did not take the many calls from the Israeli police during those two hours. They Embassy denied receiving any calls!
A pall of grief descended. The Bishop sensing despondency immediately revived everyone by reminding them that as we mourn for the dear departed lady, we should not let grief overcome purpose in the Holy Land.
The Church is the most venerated site in Christendom. It has very many chapels of all denominations. Four, some say five Stations of the Cross are within it. There is the lavishly decorated site of the crucifixion, Calvary (Golgotha), the Stone of Anointing and the (empty) tomb where Christ was buried, the traditional site of Resurrection of Christ at the Greek chapel of Anastatis, that has an altar over the rock of Calvary (12th station), the Catholic chapel of Nailing on the Cross (11th station). Underneath the Golgotha chapel is the statue of Mary (13th station).
The Church with a capacity of 8,000 opens at 4 am. About 15,000 visit daily. The Orthodox Greek start Mass, (2 am) followed by the Armenians and then the Catholics at 6 am. There is also a Copt who has to pray alone while Ethiopians do so from their roof top monastery. Priestly brawls over territory occur several times a year.This is despite the ‘firman’ (decree) by the Ottoman rulers in 1852, confirmed by the Treaty of Paris (1856) that binds the various denominations. Roof repairs and even shadows cause problems!
Questions were asked about the Arc of the Covenant where the Word of God, the Ten Commandments, in stone inscriptions inside a box apparently lies buried somewhere in the Temple Mount according to the Jews. Rumours are many and hoaxes a few but the Bishop reminded us not to worry about it as the Covenant is in the hearts of believers. The Jews however are digging for it close to Al Aqsa shrine, posing a problem to its foundation. They believe Al Aqsa was built over King David’s burial site. They insist a discovery of the Dead Sea scrolls proves where the location is and it would finally prove that Jerusalem belongs only to the Jews. When Israeli General Moshe Dayan’s troops swept into Jerusalem after defeating the Jordanians in 1967, he prohibited attempts to raze Al Aqsa shrine.
The Church was lost to the Christians for 700 years. Saladin, a Kurd from Tikrit (Saddham Hussein’s birth place) who conquered Jerusalem from the Crusaders (1198) gave the 30 cm long keys to it to two Muslims whose direct descendants Aded al Judeh (aged 89) and Nusseibeh (69-years) are the Custodians today. They open it at 4 am daily. They hold the ‘newer’ key that is 500-years old. They have the original that is 800 years old too! There is even an unused ladder in place from 1728 on the first floor.
We also visited the Western wall that is the foundation of the Temple Mount, the holiest place in the Jewish faith where King Solomon built their sacred temple. It came under Jewish control in 1967 after about 1,000 years. The Jews do not call it the ‘Wailing Wall’, a term coined by Westerners.
Jerusalem is also Islam’s third holy city.The Al Aqsa mosque on the Temple Mount is the third holiest Islamic site. It is where at one time Muslims turned in its direction to worship. It was to Mecca later. It is out of bounds to non Muslims. The Dome of the Rock is also there.
Coming down hill from the last church for the evening, we stopped at a place where everyone quenched their thirst with juice from massive pomegranates. An Israeli who had found out we were a happy talkative crowd from Sri Lanka said he had been an Air Force officer who had been in SL to fix guns on helicopters in 1988. He said he had an SLAF corporal as driver. This Corporal apparently pointed out Tamils on the streets as he drove in and out of Colombo. He said he too could always recognize an Arab anywhere, snidely suggesting we had something in common. I told him I was 78-years old but had never been able or wanted to look for racial or other differences between the Tamils and Sinhalese.
We had a 5 am start on Fri 14th to go to Nazareth, Jesus’ home town and the Arab ‘Hi Tech capital’ of Israel. It has 70% Muslims and 30% Christians. It nestles on a craggy hillside with tall trees. Its layout reminded one of Nuwara Eliya, where in fact there is a ‘Nazareth’ hotel.
We visited the Church of Annunciation where Angel Gabriel appeared before Mary, and told her she would give birth to a child, Cana, where water was turned into wine, the Church of St Joseph where Joseph had his carpentry workshop, Mount of Beatitudes (Eight Blessings) that is the site of the Sermon on the Mount, with its arches of marble and alabaster, Church of Multiplication, Church of Primacy of St Peter and the Franciscan Wedding Church at Kfar Kanna. Here married couples were overjoyed to be able to repeat their vows. Cana wine was bought by all with the promise of Christmas looming. Unfermented, it is sweet grape juice. Both are tempting.
We then descended to the Sea of Galilee (Tiberias) where it is said Jesus walked across its waters. The shore line was luxuriant with tall trees. Inland is the wateless plain of Hattin where the Arabs in 1187 under Saladin defeated the Crusaders under King Guy de Lusignan in one of the most decisive battles of history.
We each had an enormous Galilee Talapilla fish with rice and vegetables in a restaurant overlooking this fabled fresh water lake (sea). Our Hostess said the meal was specially prepared for us and asked if she could sing for us too. She did so sweetly. When she finished we persuaded Michelle who had sung in a Jerusalem church two days previously too, to respond. She obliged with a stunning and electric rendering of ‘O Jerusalem’. The hostess like the other over 100 guests, clearly inspired, sang once more.
We then had a boat ride on the Galilee. The crew at once ran up the Sri Lanka flag and played cassettes of Sinhalese songs as we motored in the emerald green waters overlooked by the Golan Heights with Mt Hermon, dominating and often snow capped, as we looked at the hills of Lebanon, Syria and Jordan
On the way back at Jericho we also saw the Sycamore tree that Zachariah, the short pitiless tax collector for the Jewish rulers, climbed to view Jesus. Overwhelmed at being recognized by Jesus, he reformed himself.
We had a 7am start on Saturday. Most of us wallowed in the turquoise waters of the Dead Sea that is 427m below sea level, the lowest point in the world. It is 35% salt. It keeps one completely buoyant, an unforgettable experience. It also has the lowest bar in the world!
We went to Jericho (Arab territory) and by cable car to the Mount of Temptation (Qurantico) 350m above sea level to have lunch in a restaurant carved into the rock. Qurantico is where Jesus defeated the temptation of the Devil for 40 days and 40 nights. The word ‘quarantine’ so familiar to us now, is derived from it. There is a Greek monastery up there too.
Jericho is said to be the oldest city in the world at 10,000 years. One mosque Omar is 258m (846 ft) below sea level. Just one percent of just one percent of its population is Christian. There is no proof that Jericho fort’s very old walls fell to Joshua’s legendary trumpet calls.
While waiting for the cable car for the return ride, a Palestinian policeman told us how very difficult Israel makes it for Arabs to get a passport or visit another country. Evil.
After lunch we went to Bethany near Al Maghtas where John the Baptist baptized Jesus in the Jordan River. The very pretty Arab and friendly Israeli girl soldiers caused a diversion- mainly for the ladies – who outnumbered the men in our group! The Israeli’s (who else?) say the actual baptismal place is further north under their control where hotels and guest houses reap the benefits. The river is just a muddy stream here. Its middle, marked by floats, marks the border between Jordan and Israel. The Bishop conducted the baptism ritual for those who wanted it. Jordanian soldiers like the Israelis were seen helping visitors. There is a Jewish ritual bathing too called the mikvah. The Arabs call it ‘immersion’.
As we were leaving an Israeli lady asked us where we were from. Having been told she said she was very happy to see people from SL and hoped that we enjoyed our visit there.
A final mass was in held in Bethlehem This time it was a Palestinian lady who having asked where we were from, thanked us for coming to Bethlehem. Tourism is the life blood of the Arabs in Palestine. There are over 600 hotels in Bethlehem.
All our lunches were at prearranged restaurants but the best was one we chose. At one, after lunch, its management distributed fez hats and organized a crocodile dance with rollicking Arab music. The best dancer cannot be named!
Every night at dinner in the shared Arab and Jewish tradition there were vegetables in plenty with various meats and kebabs and an abundance of fruit. Bishop Raymond unobtrusively sat at a different table every day, getting to know everyone in the group.
On the last night there was a delightful Arab pre-wedding women only party. There was music and dancing. They were all incredibly pretty with peaches and cream complexions and fashionably dressed.
At a short farewell ceremony, Sonia and Jameel were thanked profusely by the group as were the Bishop and Thushari. Individual donations were then given to Sonia and Jameel who became a bit emotional.
We left at 9.30 am on Saturday for our return to Jordan by coach. We were taken up to the heights of Mt. Nebo in Madaba where Moses, after 40 years of wandering to get to the Promised Land, died without being able to do so. He was a prophet of the Jews, Christians and Bhais. We saw the church that is built over his resting place. We had a stunning view of Palestine, the river Jordan and the Dead Sea as we climbed into the mountains.
We returned to SL on Monday with fond memories of a never-to-be-forgotten experience in splendid company. It had been a wonderful, delightful and charming few days. Not only Jews say ‘Next year in Jerusalem’.
New Look Chagall
Gerald Solomons is a veteran hairdresser and stylist, he not only loves doing hair, but loves relationship he builds with his clients. He honed his skills and passion to make clients look and feel glamorous. He prides himself on listening to his clients’ needs to create personalised and gorgeous hair colour and styles while always keeping the integrity of their hair his top priority.
Breast cancer awareness; a simple needle test goes a long way in saving lives
Breast cancer is the most common cancer in women across the globe. National cancer incidence data (Sri Lanka) has shown, a significant increase in the number of breast cancer patients. The peak incidence of breast cancer is between 50 – 58 years of age (can vary from country to country).
1. Age – Peak incidence of breast cancer is between 50 – 58 years of age. The incidence of breast cancer decreases after 60 years. Breast cancer is uncommon in women less than 30 years of age.
2. Family history – Women who have a first-degree relative with breast carcinoma have a two to three times higher risk of getting t
he disease than that of the general population.
3. Genetic mutations – Germline mutations of BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes are associated with an increased risk of having breast cancer.
4. Menstrual and reproductive history – Increased risk is correlated with early menarche (beginning of menstrual cycles), nulliparity, late age at first birth and late menopause.
5. Exogenous oestrogen – Exogenous oestrogen is considered as a risk factor of breast cancer.
6. Ionizing radiation – An increased risk of breast cancer has been documented with exposure to ionizing radiation.
7. Alcohol consumption
8. Cigarette smoking
10. Lack of physical exercise
However, in most cases a definitive cause for breast cancer cannot be identified. It is important to know that you can get breast cancer without having any of the above mentioned risk factors. Why it happened and how it happened may not be clear at all times. Do not blame yourself, it is not due to your fault. It can happen to anyone… rich or poor, big or small, black or white. Do not let breast cancer destroy your life. If you come early the disease can be controlled. Be knowledgeable about the symptoms of breast cancer. If you feel something is not right, without taking it lightly resort to medical advice.
There is a wide range of symptoms that can vary from person to person
Breast lump (usually painless), hardness or thickening
Skin changes that include swelling, redness, pitting (skin of an orange), scaling or any other noticeable change
An increase in the size or change in the shape of the breast
Changes in the appearance of the nipple (s), peeling of skin over the nipple
Discharge from the nipple (other than milk)
Pain in any part of the breast
Lumps/ swelling in the arm pit
However, it is important to understand that early breast cancer may not show any of the above symptoms. You may not feel a lump at all. Only way to detect early cancer is by a screening method and currently the widely acknowledged approach has been screening mammography. By this screening method unsuspected lumps in asymptomatic women can be identified. Breast cancer screening using mammograms is a well- established program in the developed world. Women over 45-50 years of age are recommended for screening. The cut off age for screening can vary from country to country. If there is a strong family history of breast cancer (or any other significant risk factor) screening will be offered at an earlier age. Mammogram exposes the breasts to a small amount of radiation. Benefits of breast screening by mammogram are far too many. We do not have a national breast cancer screening programme yet, but it will come in to place in the near future.
There is a simple needle test (fine needle aspiration cytology technique) that can be done as a first line investigation for breast lumps. It is a minimally invasive procedure with hardly any complications. It is cost effective and the results can be obtained quickly. Needle test can give a clue as to the nature of the lump. Sometimes the needle test results can be inconclusive. In those instances, further investigations will be done to confirm the diagnosis.
A plunge of three decades and more
Sri Lanka Sub Aqua Club credited for producing some of country’s top divers, several of them internationally recognized today, turns 35
by Randima Attygalle
Piling the diving gear into their cars and filling the empty seats with fellow divers, the founder members of the Sri Lanka Sub Aqua Club (SLSAC) in its formative years would head south to Hikkaduwa or Galle. They would fill their cylinders with a compressor, cast their own lead weights from lead pipes bought in Panchikawatte and purchase second-hand equipment whenever they appeared in the market. As the Founder Chairman of the Club, veteran diver, Dr. Malik Fernando recollects more than three decades later, “those who were fortunate enough to travel abroad brought back accessories and sold them at cost and we even serviced our own regulators.”
The Sri Lanka Sub-Aqua Club was formed in 1985 by a group of diving enthusiasts led by the marine biologist, Dr. M.W.R.N de Silva (Dr. Ranjith de Silva). What was envisaged by the Club says Dr. Fernando was to train Sri Lankans in SCUBA diving for both recreation and more importantly, for scientific research. He was supported by Arjan Rajasuriya, presently the Coordinator, Coastal and Marine Programme, International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Sri Lanka Country Office. The idea of the Club germinated in the mind of the founder, Dr. Ranjith de Silva following his establishment of the Coral Unit at the National Aquatic Resources and Research Agency (NARA). The core group consisted of a few British Sub Aqua (BSAC) qualified divers such as Dr. Fernando, himself and those who have been involved in various diving-related pursuits.
The SLSAC, modelled on the BSAC, had produced several internationally reputed divers along its 35-year journey. The SLSAC-certified divers are today recognized by many local recreational dive stations. “Although we sought to form a branch of the BSAC once we got established, the cost was prohibitive, thus we initiated our independent certification scheme,” notes its founder chairman. The Club’s training courses, Dr. Fernando recollects, were very popular and many divers were trained by senior members. “However, it was eventually recognised that the BSAC curriculum was too comprehensive, too time consuming and too detailed for beginners. With the popularisation of the compact PADI course that a number of us followed, the club curriculum was modified and simplified changing from a BSAC model to a PADI model, with much less theory and drills reduced to basic essentials. The instruction was still by club members, some of whom had BSAC qualification and experience in instructing in their original clubs. We were only able to give a club certification, but after we had established our credentials by producing well trained divers, that certification came to be recognised by some of the recreational dive stations.”
The SLSAC was also one of the chief catalysts in driving the now well-established Maritime Archaelogy Unit (MAU) in Galle, and the contribution made by the Club members towards its expansion is notable. Recovery of several porcelain and glass artefacts by them from the shipwrecks lying in Galle spurred this initiative, says Dr. Fernando. Further, th
e club has also contributed to maritime archaeology and preservation of artefacts by contributing to the establishment of a shipwreck database and actively lobbying against shipwreck salvaging, especially of ancient shipwrecks.
A medical doctor, Fernando attributes his ‘physician gene’ to his illustrious father, Dr. Cyril Fernando and his penchant for nature to his artistic mother. An adventurous family, they would seize every opportunity to travel out of Colombo fuelling the budding physician-cum diver son’s exploring spirits. Taking to water at the age of seven, young Malik’s imagination was fired by the National Geographic Magazine. With a pair of flippers and a second-hand mask he would head towards Mount Lavinia and recollect his earliest experience of Hikkaduwa as “going deep down into an aquarium.” Further inspired by the celebrated diver Rodney Jonklaas, a family acquaintance as well, the freshly graduated doctor would spend more time diving than passing his higher exams in the UK!
“Today the greater accent is on tuition and passing exams with little emphasis on sports and even if children do engage in sports, it is largely for competition. Sadly the value of sports as a leisure activity and a health gain is largely undermined today,” observes Dr. Fernando who urges school authorities to take more interest in water-sports. “Learning to swim and dive is only means to an end. Not only can a person discover new places but he/she can also become a partner is conservation,” says the expert diver who has walked the talk. Encouraging the budding swimmers and divers to become partners of the marine eco-system true to the mandate of the Club, Dr. Fernando urges them to rally around it in a bid to produce ‘responsible’ divers with scientific insights.
“Diving enables connectivity with the entire eco-system from which we are sadly very detached right now. It provides one of the best windows to the polluted environment, for which man is responsible,” reflects Wishwamithra Kadurugamuwa, present President of the Club. The monthly ‘sharing of knowledge’ exercise initiated by the Club facilitates this process, he adds. The experience and stories of the experienced divers shared on this platform inspire the younger members, he says. “For us, diving is much more than sight-seeing, it is about moulding divers who would perceive things scientifically,” says Kadurugamuwa who is a corporate lawyer .
The ‘Citizen Science Project’ which was launched by the Club early this year in collaboration with the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) is a progressive move which provides the divers a portal to document their dives. The exercise is envisaged to be a vehicle of future research and a facilitator in conservation. “The end purpose of this endeavour is to have a record after each dive as to where the reefs are dying, the extent of the damage, how can they be salvaged etc. To record all this, divers need to perceive through a scientific lens for which training is provided by experts,” said Kadurugamuwa.
The opportunities within the marine eco-system which lay before an island nation such as ours are enormous, yet hardly tapped, he noted. He cites water sports and newer tourism products such as shipwreck tourism in this regard. “Sadly there is not much attention paid to the marine environment in the magnitude it ought to happen,” adding that entangled fishing nets, empty plastic bottles and yoghurt cups floating besides the coral reefs do not support the idyllic picture any underwater explorer would want to see. The Club’s intervention to clean fishing nets entangled on coral reefs and lobbying for legislation against unethical fishing practices are moves towards realizing a sustainable marine environment.
Dynamite fishing and spear-fishing are very destructive forms of fishing and whilst there is active legislation prohibiting dynamite fishing, it is practiced widely and the club has played a very active role in reporting infractions to authorities leading to curtail of such activity. In addition the club was instrumental in bringing about legislation to prohibit spear-fishing in Sri Lanka – again a very destructive practice as spear fishermen in SCUBA gear have caused localized extinction of key species.
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