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Kirala Kelle, Matara

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Kirala Kelle, as the Sinhalese name implies, is a ‘mangrove forest’ covering an area of 1,800 ha, accessible from Matra- Hakmana and Matara-Akuressa roads and 3 km from Matara. It is comprised of marshlands, irrigation cannels, and mangrove habitats. Home gardens can be found in the immediate boundary of the wetland.

It is an important wetland supporting many species of plants and animals. The Nilwala Flood Protection works and expanding agriculture has changed the ecology of the forest. A network recently repaired of irrigation canals has restored the water flow in the mangrove area. Kirala Kelle today stands as an ideal habitat for wetland biodiversity, and is considered as one of the most valuable conservation areas in the Matara District. Being close to Matara town, it is a potential site for nature-based tourism.

Presence of fossils of the Window pane oysters (Placenta placenta) in the area indicates that the area has been subjected to inundation by sea water during the Pleistocene period (3 million to 10,000 years before the present).

Kirala kele supports about 35,000 people from 11 surrounding Grama Niladari divisions, There are about 16,000 living in the immediate surrounding of the wetland system. Many people use the wetland for raising cattle, growing paddy and other crops, and in fishing

Habitats in Kirala Kelle
Kirala Kelle is made up of several different types of wetlands – marshland, mangrove areas, paddy lands, and irrigation canals – as well as numerous home gardens.
2. Mangrove
Scatterdly distributed Kirala (Sonneratia caseolaris) can be found at the edge of the irrigation canals. Belipatta (Hibiscus tiliaceus), Wel Kadurau( Cerbera manghas), Diyadanga (Dolichandrone spathacea) and Kerankoku (Acrosticum aureum) also found in the area.

1. Marshland
The largest area is marshland. The dominant species found in the marshland are Olu (Nymphaea pubescens), Manel (Nymphaea nouchali), Kumudu (Nymphodes indica), Cyperus platyphyllus, Nalagas (Phragmites karka), Induru (Hanguana malayana), Hambu pan (Typha angustifolia) and Borupan (Eleaocharis dulcis). Although Hambu pan can be used for handy crafts, community of Kirala kelle is not extensively used this resource to earn extra income.
3. Irrigation Canals
Several very attractive aquatic plants are found in the irrigation canals. These include Nelum (Nelumbo nucifera), Olu (Nymphaea pubescens), Manel (Nymphaea nouchali), Kumudu (Nymphodes indica). People collect flowers of these for supplementing their income. Bordering the canals is Mudukiyya (Pandanus odoratissima).

Flora (Plants)
In a recent rapid, preliminary survey, 83 plant species belonging to 40 families were recorded in Kirala kelle, Aquatic vegetation dominates the area; a considerable population of herbs, shrubs, and small trees are also found. People use many of these plants as food sources. Fruits of Kirala (Sonneratia caseolaris), seeds of Olu (Nymphaea pubescens), and young leaves of Kerankoku (Acrosticum aureum) are some popular food items. There are important medicinal plants such as Pupula (Vernonia zeylanica) and Ranwan keekirindiya (Wedelia chinensis). Reeds, Hambu pan (Typha angustifolia) and other Reed species, are also very common and are used, in a limited way for handicraft industry.
Fauna (animals)
This complex, rich wetland habitat is the home for many animals. Thirteen species of mammals have been recorded from the site, including the common and endemic Purple faced leaf monkey (Trachypithecus vetulus), and the Toque macaque (Macaca sinica). They feed on vegetation, and can be a nuisance on home gardens..

Wetland birds are the most prominent animals of Kirala kelle. One hundred and three bird species were recorded fom Kirala kele, of which 48 are wetland birds. Large flocks of Lesser whistling ducks (Dendrocygna javanica) ia a common sight; Other common birds include the Asian Openbill (Anastomus oscitans), Purple Swamphen (Porphyrio porphyrio), Purple heron (Ardea purpurea), Pheasant-tailed Jacana (Hydrophasianus chirurgus), and Pond heron (Ardeola grayii). Kirala kelle not only provides the feeding ground for many bird species, but also provides nesting habitats for many bird species such as herons, cormorants, egrets, coots, weavers and Munias. An influx of migratory wetland birds can also be observed during the migratory season from early September to late March every year.

Freshwater fishes form an important part of the wetland and provide food for the communities. Small scale fishing is very common to supplement household income.. About 25 species of fish are found in the waters of the wetland. The exotic species, Tilapia (Oreochromis mosambicus) and Niloti (Oreochromis niloticus) are the most abundant. Other commercially important fish are the murrel (Channa striata), spotted snakehead (Channa punctata), stinging catfish (Heteropneustes fossilis) and walking catfish (Clarias brachysoma).

In addition to the above, many species of butterflies, reptiles, amphibians and hundreds of invertebrate species also decorate the biological wealth of Kirala kelle.

Threats to Kirala kelle
Occasional land filling, unless arrested now can be a serious problem in Kirala Kelle. Currently, there generally is management of solid waste; however, with expansion of tourism, it is necessary that at least the current state of solid waste management is maintained. Although it is not extensively distributed, very aggressive invasive plant Wel aththa (Annona galbra) can be found along the irrigation channels. Unless management actions are not taken, this could be serious threat Kirala Kelle.

According to the Fauna and Flora protection ordinance, “no person shall hurt, shoot, kill or take any wild animal, or take or destroy any egg of any bird or reptile or any nest of any bird within the area”. Therefore, it is evident that even though permits are not required to enter the Kirala Kelle, it is still a protected area, and there are certain things that one should bare in mind during an excursion.

Proper management of Kirala Kelle is important for conserving the biological, hydrological and ecological aspects and for the surrounding communities to continue to use it in their daily lives. Kirala Kelle also offers an excellent nature tourism site which will also help the communities to earn money. Thus it is your responsibility to ensure that our flourishing and valuable wetland Kirala Kelle is well taken care of.
It is your duty to conserve Kirala Kelle...
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