Between Colombo and Galle there exists a beautiful river called Madu Ganga in Balapitiya which offers a glimpse of how it has become a part of the life of the people in the area .
In the outset Madu Ganga is considered as Sri Lanka's second largest wetland consisting of 28 islands including two main islands providing shelter to 215 families.
Over the past generations Madu Ganga has played an important role in providing food and shelter and of course providing easy access to the main land via small wooden boats.
During the pre colonization period Madu ganga was used as one of the main water ways connecting cities and ancient Sinhala Kingdoms.
The main treasure of Madu Ganga is its mangroves that act as a bio-lock to the area in giving protection to the variety of aquatic plants and animal life. They provide a home for different kinds of aquatic plants, crabs, shrimps, fish, various invertebrates and other animal life including crocodiles .
According to villagers the main secret of the Madu Ganga is the tide. On any given day during the low tide the sea water comes inland and mixes with fresh water and in the evening it is the other way around - the magic of nature .
Villagers say that many generations ago, the Madu Ganga flowed by peaceful villages . People had a very basic life style and everything was fulfilled through Madu Ganga by means of agriculture and fishing. Strangely despite the rapid development in the country most people living in and around the Madu Ganga still engage in traditional methods of catching fish such as use of yoth and other small nets. Shrimp farming is popular here. For that they make use of the traditional method of laying separators made out of bamboo. In the night the fishermen light kerosene lamps and place it in a trap box. According to fishermen the shrimp follow the light of the lamp and get trapped in the box. Today shrimp farming has become a good source of income, but is a dying profession in Madu Ganga.
Shrimp farmer David Silva has been engaged in this trade for the past 30 years and sees an end to this after his death.
" I have been engaged in shrimp farming over the past 30 years and there were many people doing this to earn money. But today there are only 10 people like me actually doing this job- others have either passed away or switched to another profession due to the factors threatening the existence of shrimp farming or 'Ja- kotu'" he said.
According to David the influx of motorized boats has gravely affected the growth and continuation of the traditional way of shrimp farming. "These motor boats drive fast damaging our bamboo separators. On the other hand Shrimps lay their eggs in the mangroves and they are disturbed by the fast moving boats." he said.
Taking tourists on boat rides is a growing business in the Madu Ganga. Everyday local and foreign tourists come there to go on boat rides which take a couple of hours. Traveling by boat is a good way for tourists to witness and discover the real beauty of Madu Ganga.
By Deepal V. Perera
Kothduwa Purana Raja Maha Viharaya - Daily Mirror, March 21, 2006
March 24, 2007