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Scientific marine tourism: how ready are we?



Sri Lanka’s potential for ‘eco and science-based marine tourism’, though immense, has still not been properly tapped. To promote this unconventional tourism product, sustainable environmental practices are fundamental. We spoke to several stakeholders who moot collaborative efforts and community participation in making these best practices a reality.

*The highly diverse Lankan coastline abundant with natural resources is now showing obvious evidence of degradation and destruction.

*The pandemic has made things worse by adding disposable facemasks to the growing plastic menace

*The ‘polluter pays’ principle which is strictly applied in developed parts of the world is grossly neglected here

*Sustainable environmental practices can reflect very positively on the overall branding of the country


Face masks piled up on the beach and empty plastic bottles entangled in a coral reef do not fit into the idyllic picture a tourist will envisage of our island. We have been taking our coastline of 1,620 km, abundant with golden dunes, coconut groves and a lot more enabling livelihoods for millions, for granted. The highly diverse Lankan coastline abundant with natural resources is now showing obvious evidence of degradation and destruction.

Our coastal belt with its enormous capacity for tourism is largely threatened by coastal pollution, unethical fishing practices and climate change, says the Former Head of Department of Oceanography, University of Ruhuna and former GM of the Marine Environment Protection Authority (MEPA), Prof. Terney Pradeep Kumara. “The need to have sustainable management of the coastal belt is urgent. While more than 11 million of people live in coastal districts, nearly 62% of local industries are also located in this zone. If we are to attract high end tourists whose revenue matters to the country, we need to act now in managing our coastal resources.”

Sri Lanka’s potential for ‘eco and science-based tourism’, though enormous, has still not been properly understood or tapped, says Prof. Terney. He explains that sustainable environmental practices are fundamental to promote this modern tourism product. “Given our highly diverse ecosystems and our orientation in the Indian Ocean, our marine heritage-both natural and archaeological, is very rich. Corals, for example, can only not determine events of the past such as volcanic eruptions, rising sea levels, mass flooding etc. but they can also predict the same. If we look at pollen, larvae and cysts of different organisms, they can say how ecologically we are connected through genetic matter, animal migration etc. Then we have several shipwrecks which form part of our marine heritage. They are historically important not only to us but to the whole world showing evidence of trade relations and technological evolution and exchange of sea fare. To sustain all of this, coastal management is a must.”

The ocean expert alludes to best practices in South Africa, Australia and the Maldives where tourism goes beyond leisure and makes it a learning experience as well and thereby diversifies the tourism industry. “The reach for scientific eco-tourism is vast and if we market our resources along those lines, going beyond the region, we can attract a sizable segment from Russia, Europe and Canada as well.”

High level multi-sectoral collaborations are proposed by Prof. Terney to address the challenges to sustainable coastal management strategies. Having technical staff equipped with sound scientific knowledge and experience on the boards of SLTDA and SLTPB which are responsible for tourism promotion, equipping hotels with professionals who could empower tourists, enhancing field-based manpower, collating research-based data scattered among various agencies, regulating diving centres (some of which support illegal activities such as spear fishing among tourists) and giving more teeth to the existing environmental and coastal protection laws and increasing the legal literacy among tour guides and local communities are among some of his proposals.

The plastic waste generation here at home is alarming, warns Prof. Terney. “A considerable amount of plastic waste is generated here and a good majority of it ends up in the sea threatening marine life. The pandemic has made things worse by adding disposable facemasks to the growing plastic menace.” The ‘polluter pays’ principle which is strictly applied in developed parts of the world by multi-nationals is grossly neglected in our part of the world, charges the scholar. “Compared to their business scale, the amount these multinationals spend to recover the environment in developing and underdeveloped countries is a pittance,” observes Prof. Terney. The absence of a system of collecting all waste as in the case of Singapore, one of the best Asian models, makes Lankans selfish and also lackluster towards the environment, he goes on to say.

Citing the recent oil spillage catastrophe in our seas of which the environmental damage is yet to be quantified, Prof. Terney calls for urgent amendments to the current laws, some of which have ‘grey areas’. He also moots modern standards and beach certification programmes such as Blue Flag (the world’s most recognized voluntary awards for beaches, marinas and sustainable boating tourism operators) and other leading standards for sustainable marine tourism practices such as Green Fins and Green Key.

Most well-seasoned travelers look for countries and organizations which practice sustainability before selecting their destination and therefore the impact of sustainable environmental practices on high-end tourism cannot be undermined, says, Chairman, Jetwing Symphony PLC and the Chair of the Advisory Committee to the Ministry of Tourism, Hiran Cooray. “Sustainable environmental practices can reflect very positively on the overall branding of a country and unethical practices can obviously hurt us,” says the hospitality leader who cites the example of Boracay in Philippines where the destination had to be closed for almost a year to get it cleaned up. “If our beaches and rivers get inundated with plastic waste and other pollutants, no one will get close to them and automatically we will be out of business.”

The well traveled hotelier explains that New Zealand is a fine example of a destination branded as ‘100% pure’. “They walk the talk by setting very high standards of environmental protection and awareness among people.” Education is the key to sustainable practices, remarks Cooray who goes on to note that there are no quick solutions but the only way is to believe in clean cities and villages and work hard collectively to educate the masses.

Protection of tourism assets and involving the community in conservation and revenue sharing are the two most important lessons Sri Lanka can learn from other Asian counterparts such as the Maldives, Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines- countries which generate millions of dollars annually from marine tourism, points out techdiver, underwater explorer and photographer Dharshana Jayawardena. Questioning the logic of promoting tourism while it is exploited illegally, Jayawardena charges that in certain areas of the country, usage of illegal fishing nets, dynamite fishing and spear fishing is taking its toll decimating the marine ecosystem. “For instance, the wreck and the corals of the World War II SS British Sergeant are destroyed by dynamite fishing regularly and in Unawatuna dive operators complain that while they are showing marine life to SCUBA divers, a few dive centers break the rules and engage in illegal spearfishing shocking the tourists they are guiding. Both dynamite fishing and spearfishing is illegal in Sri Lanka but still happens rampantly.”

‘Over tourism’, as the explorer explains, can also destroy tourism assets. “In other countries, there is a daily limit to the number of tourists who can visit the national parks, ensuring that the marine eco system has a respite. Pigeon Island National Park of ours which is suffering from overcrowding and pollution can benefit from a model like this.”

In a lot of Asian countries, most of the revenue earned by a tourism asset directly goes back to the community surrounding the asset. People in the area are involved in providing services as well as earning a majority of revenue from the park fee which goes to community development in the area. “This provides a strong incentive for the community towards conservation and protection of the tourism assets as they benefit most from it. It can also be thought of a redirection of tax revenue made from tourism businesses in the area are directly reinvested back to provide better quality of life to people in the area and the tourists, instead of the money disappearing forever in the treasury,” maintains Jayawardena.

Rasika Muthucumarana, Maritime Archaeologist from the Maritime Archaeology Unit of the Central Cultural Fund in Galle says that marine pollution expedites the deterioration of wrecks and artefacts resulting from chemical reactions. “The inland waste flowing through rivers and canals ultimately end up in the ocean at a huge cost. Pollution also distracts marine life from wrecks. Shipwreck diving is a popular form of marine tourism and environmental hazards, largely due to plastic pollution can discourage potential tourists,” says Muthucumarana. The marine pollution resulting in unclean waters and lower visibility could affect divers. “There are also hazards posed by ‘ghost nets’ entangled in wrecks and corals. Marine pollution also places the divers at increased health risks,” notes the maritime archaeologist who calls for higher penalties and fines for polluters.

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Giving Sri Lankan street dogs love, respect and a home



by Zanita Careem

An epitome of courage and wisdom, she is one of the top entrepreneurs in Sri Lanka, founder of Sri Lanka’s most stylish department where she served as Managing Director. Otara Gunawardena is truly inspirational.

She has earned many awards and notched several achievements. She was awarded the best female entrepreneur award at the Seventh US Stevie awards for Women in Business and 2018 Women of the Year Award by Women in Management (WIM).

Embark has become a popular brand. How do you account for it, its beginnings and its progress?

“Back in 2007, pedigreed dogs were popularly in demand but there were countless street dogs who needed care and love. Many of them were abused and unwanted. I wanted to change their circumstance and initiated Embark with the dream of providing a better life for our Sri Lanka’s street dogs and to give them the love, respect and the home they deserve.

“The brand was set up so that the profits would support the work we do with street dogs. It was also meant to help people to live a lifestyle supporting the cause and being ambassadors for the dogs with the clothing they wear. Most of the T- shirts have slogans conveying a positive message about street dogs in a fun way and many items became popular fashion statements.”

Explain the concept behind embark and the advocacy campaign for the welfare of homeless dogs?

“The concept was to make the street dog fashionable to own. And we have succeeded in doing so as more than 6,000 street pups have been re-homed, more than 60,000 vaccinated and sterilized throughout the island. Close to 35,000 plus street dogs have been rescued and treated over the last 15 years. Many people also now do their own rescues and adoptions.

“Embark mainly provides free medical treatment for sick and injured street dogs, the majority without owners. We also help find homes for pups who are abandoned on the streets. Besides the direct rescues we do there is also a foster network who rescues these pups, looks after them temporarily whilst we provide the required medical care – vaccinations, de-worming etc. and bring them to our monthly adoption programs where they find forever homes. We carried out many sterilization programs throughout the country and ensure there is population control within the street dog population in Sri Lanka. We also have a free medical clinic weekly at our head office in Colombo where we provide vaccinations, treatments and sterilizations for street/ adopted dogs.

What is your main focus in initiating this project?

“As explained previously, the main reason behind Embark is to give our Sri Lankan street dogs the love, respect and most of all the home that they deserve.”

Don’t you ever find the work you’re doing depressing and do you find any changes for the better?

“Sadly, the situation is quite dire in Sri Lanka but it has definitely improved from the past. There is now a no kill policy and sometimes there are programs of vaccination and sterilization implemented but unfortunately not done well. There is a lot more awareness and concern with people now against cruelty and also many more helping stray animals than before. However, there is still a lot of cruelty to elephants, an increase in terrible pet shops which are filled with suffering animals, cruel pedigree breeding, inhuman zoos, animals suffering in captivity etc.

“Lack of laws is a big issue too, something that has not changed despite many governments that have come and gone. It can be quite depressing to be aware of the cruelty and see it daily in a country such as ours where the need for compassion is stressed. We just do what we can each day to make a positive difference in the current situation.”

What has been the highlight of setting up Embark?

“Well, there are many, but I can say it has been rewarding to see a paralysed dog walk again, a dog who was severely ill recover and a rescued pup finding their forever home and living the best possible life. These may seem small achievements but they are close to my heart and I am glad I am able to help these amazing beings recover and live a good life. “

What are your programs to improve and protect animals and the environment in Sri Lanka?

“Embark under, Otara Foundation has been working on improving the lives of street dogs throughout the country, conducting rescue and re-homing initiatives whilst managing the canine population and preventing rabies through sterilization and vaccination programs across the country. Most of the rescues and treating of the injured are focused in the Western Province, but we do try our best to reach as best as we can in other areas.

“Embark has been at the forefront influencing policy in relation to animals and playing a vital role in making a significant change in the lives of animals and people alike.

“The Otara Foundation works with its accredited partners to promote large and medium-scale reforestation projects in the country. In addition, because it is the Foundation’s mandate that all life matters and every little effort is a step in the right direction, we support and promote smaller individual initiatives in reforestation and replanting. I personally advocate a better life for animals, speak out on behalf of the animals and participate in awareness.”

Any drawbacks?

“I can only look at the change I have been able to make for animals and the environment and be grateful for what’s been achieved. The drawbacks are knowing how much more we need to do and can be done if there was conscious caring leadership as a lot of bigger change has to be initiated from the top.”

How does it feel being a female entrepreneur?

“It has been a challenging yet enjoyable journey. I am happy to have been able to change the direction of retail and fashion in Sri Lanka and to give a lot more women hope to follow their dreams and be who they want to be.”

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Understanding fibroids



Uterine myomas, commonly called fibroids, are very common in South Asian and African women. However, the risk of them turning malignant or cancerous is very rare. In an interview with the Sunday Island, Consultant Obstetrician and Gynaecologist and Senior Lecturer in Obstetrics and Gynaecology from the Kotelawala Defense University, Dr. Romanie Fernando throws light on the causes and treatment of fibroids which are found in 30% of Lankan women over 30 years.

by Randima Attygalle

Uterine fibroids are benign or non-cancerous muscular growths which could appear in the uterus (womb), uterine wall or on its surface. The uterine wall which is made of smooth muscle becomes harder as a result of fibroids. “There is a genetic pre-disposition involved in fibroids; South Asian and African women are at a higher risk of getting fibroids and why they are more pre-disposed is still unknown,” says Dr. Romanie Fernando.

Fibroids usually appear in women of reproductive age- generally between 30-40 years although in some, they could appear earlier than that. “They are very common, so much so, one in three Lankan women above 30 years will have fibroids. However, the risk of having a malignant change is very rare. Only less than 0.5% of uterine fibroids will have the risk of turning into cancer, hence women should not have unnecessary fears about them,” Dr. Fernando says.


Genetics and hormones largely influence fibroids and their growth. Estrogen and progesterone imbalance affect fibroid growth. When hormone production slows down during menopause, these fibroids usually shrink. “Family history, age and race are the other factors which could place a woman at a higher risk of developing them,” explains the obstetrician.


Symptoms depend on the size and site of the fibroid. Only about 30% of women with fibroids will have symptoms and the majority will be asymptomatic (not showing symptoms). “Some fibroids are so small and are of a size of a shirt button that they will go unnoticed and won’t cause any harm, while others grow in big masses and can affect the uterus and adjacent structures causing symptoms.”

If a fibroid is found inside the uterus or the uterine cavity, it could affect the menstrual cycle resulting in pain during menstruation, heavy periods and spotting (bleeding in between two cycles). “If a fibroid is found in a woman close to menopause and if it is not causing any menstrual or pressure symptoms, we usually wait until she reaches menopause without intervening because with low estrogen, the fibroids will naturally shrink.”


Diagnosis is largely an incidental or accidental finding during a clinical examination. “During a routine pelvic exam a doctor may suspect fibroids if the shape of the uterus feels irregular or unusually large. Fibroids are also diagnosed during pregnancy when routine scans are done.”


Treatment too depends on the age of the woman, size and site of the fibroid. The growth of most of the fibroids is very slow, usually about half a centimeter in two years, explains Dr. Fernando. “However, if the growth is very rapid within a short time, it could be worrying and we need to intervene to remove it.”

Although not a very common presentation, severe backache could also be a symptom of fibroids. “Some women with fibroids could also be anemic due to increased menstrual blood loss and in such instances, we address anemia as well.”

Fibroids are treated symptomatically. If a fibroid is found to be causing pain, heavy menstrual flow or pressure on other organs such as the bladder for example, (causing frequent urges to urinate or inability to control urine) investigations will be done to determine the best mode of treatment. “Treatment could be either with oral medication or surgery depending on the severity of each case.”

Fibroids and pregnancy

If fibroids larger than five centimeters are found in a woman before her pregnancy, they are usually surgically removed to avoid complications during pregnancy. During pregnancy, the blood supply to the womb is increased, hence removal of fibroids is very risky and is postponed until after the delivery. “After a pregnancy the hormone levels and the blood supply become less and the fibroids too tend to become smaller. There had been maternal deaths when trying to remove fibroids during cesarean operations because of the inability to control the heavy bleeding,” says the consultant.

Fibroids can cause foetal growth restrictions and premature labour in some women. The positioning of the baby could also be abnormal in some cases. “If the fibroid is found closer to the uterine cavity, there could be a higher risk of miscarrying and after normal delivery heavy bleeding (post-partum haemorrhage) is also common.

Types of surgery

There are many ways to treat fibroids. The treatment that works best for each woman will depend on symptoms, reproductive plans, age, and the site of fibroids in the womb. “In younger women with reproductive wishes (those who hope to get pregnant in future), we usually remove the fibroids with myomectomy. This type of surgery removes them while retaining the healthy tissue. Myomectomy could be performed in many ways from abdominal surgery to laparoscopy,” remarks Dr. Fernando.

Although several other non-surgical interventions including the latest high intensity focused ultrasound (HIFU) device which was developed for treating uterine fibroid and drugs to shrink fibroids are available in other parts of the world, locally we are still limited to treating fibroids surgically with myomectomy (removal of the fibroid) or hysterectomy (removal of the uterus), says the consultant.

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Vibrant hair colours and subtle make-up for 2022 –Ramani



by Zanita Careem

As 2022 begins, the beauty boom continues. In this article Ramani Fernando takes a daring leap into the overarching themes set to trend 2022.

How we express ourselves through products, to progress in sustainability and inclusion across the country.

Ramani Fenando’s deep passion to beauty trends in hair, and engagement with, its growing enthusiastic followers continues to dominate the beauty scene in 2022.

A beacon for new trend beauty entrepreneurs will not be short of support and guidance helping to bring a growing number of mission driven beauty brands to life and scale. My passion became my career and that’s why I also say do what you love, you never know where it will lead.

Q: The past year has witnessed a significant shift to people who discover and indulge in beauty category, what your take on it.

I want to inspire people to understand that no matter what they look like, they are people. For me beauty is timeless. We want everyone to accept and love themselves for themselves and be comfortable in their own skin.

From being a beautician and handresser to becoming the founder of many Ramani Fernando salons I have come a long way. My name in the beauty industry is most recognizable, she gets candid about her passion,her salons, her favorite make up products and share words of encouragement for women entrepreneurs.

What do you think your brand Ramani Fernando salons is synonymous to?

I’d like to think that Ramani Fernando Salons has been a pioneering, inspirational and passionate brand with more than 45 years within the hair industry, having grown from a single unit into a large chain of salons around the country.

I wouldn’t want to compare my salons to other brands in the industry as each brand or individual has their own pioneers which makes them unique in their own way.

What kind of make up do you like?

Something I live by is “Less is More” I like subtle classic looks when it comes to bridal makeup, I feel elegance and simplicity are my focus.

Have you ever faced any crticism for your work?

Yes of course, I take it very seriously and in a positive manner as constructive criticism which I feel, we all need in our lives to learn and grow from.

Your words of encouragement for women who want to have identity of themselves?

“Each of us has unsuspected power to accomplish what we demand of ourselves.”

The new trends in hair styles, hair colour and hair cuts.

Hair Styles

Ten years ago, people were just styling hair and not thinking about the haircut underneath it.” It’s a way of approaching your hair that allows you to embrace all manner of trends, from embracing your natural curls to air drying your layers, and gives your hairstyle its unique character.

For a while now, we’ve favoured hairstyles which appear artfully undone, low maintenance and effortless, but many hairstylists are predicting a return to the old-school blow-dry and a more finessed approach to hair.

Hair Cuts

Undoubtedly the haircut of 2021, the bob is going nowhere for this year. But for young teenagers the bob remains at the forefront. There are so many new variations in the hair—changes in length, shape, volume and styling—for 2022

What do you think are the new make up trends this year?

Yet another popular type of makeup application is HD makeup. This makeup is done using regular brushes but products that contain pigments with light-diffusing coatings that blur the imperfections when light reflects onto them.

Mineral makeup is all about getting that natural finish with makeup that looks like your skin, but better. The products for this type of makeup style are made using compressed minerals and they don’t have any oil. This is generally the preferred makeup technique for oily skin types, but with the rightful application can work fabulously for any skin type.

The signature products that will dominate the skin industry.

There are many products that I consider as signature products for skin car, some of the more dominant ingredients, like niacinamide, hyaluronic acid, salicylic acid (to name a few) focusing on creating healthy moisturized, blemish free, pigment free and glowing skin.

Any hair colour that will dominate the young teenagers.

At the moment we see many teenagers coming in to the salon asking for many vibrant colours like blues, greens, purples and pinks.

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