Ian Lockwood

MUSINGS, TRIP ACCOUNTS AND IMAGES FROM SOUTH ASIA

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OSC Sinharaja Field Study 2014

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Images from Sinharaja rainforest and its edges: Emergent layer on Moulawella, Misty primary forest, mixed cultivation on the north-west edge of the protected area.

Images from Sinharaja rainforest and its edges: emergent layer on Moulawella, misty primary forest, mixed cultivation on the north-west edge of the protected area.

Last week OSC’s DP Geography class spent four productive and memorable days in Sinharaja rainforest collecting data for their internal assessment. This is the 10th OSC class to visit Sri Lanka’s  well known tropical rainforest. Located in the south western Rukwana Hills, Sinharaja is a designated UNESCO biodiversity heritage site and has received widespread recognition for its flora and fauna. A key aspect of its story is the remarkable recovery that the forest has made after being heavily logged in the early 1970s. Today Sinharaja offers a model site to study ecotourism, rainforest ecology and rural home garden agriculture. Our trip provided an opportunity for students to collect field data for their internal assessment, a 2,500 word research paper that accounts for 20-25% of their final grade. As we have done on past field studies, this year’s cohort focused on themes of tourism, biodiversity, energy, land use and home garden agriculture.

Once again, we stayed at Martin Wijeysinghe’s Jungle Lodge. This small guest house has ideal conditions for a forest experience and field study. It sits on the boundary between the buffer and core zone of the protected area and there is easy access to several different habitats. There is excellent secondary forest that attracts most of the endemic birds and a clear stream for guests to cool off in. Electricity is generated by a small micro-turbine, water is heated by solar panels and the food is locally produced. There is very limited cell phone connectivity, something that delights old fashioned teachers but can challenge students used to 24/7 connectivity. Weather conditions were wet during our stay, but the showers came in the afternoon and we had productive mornings in the surrounding landscapes.

This year’s Geography cohort was its smallest in recent memory, with only five students participating. We were supported by Ms. Uthpala De Silva, who assists the secondary school with cover work. She was an enthusiastic participant and was particularly resourceful in helping with translation and building bridges with community members who the students were interviewing. After getting settled into Martin’s on Tuesday afternoon we started the experience with an introductory walk to the Sinharaja core area. That afternoon we traversed the well-worn tourist paths though secondary, and primary forests.

 

Different types of Geographic data being gathered by OSC DP students in Sinharaja. SOcio-economic data from Kudawa residents, spatial data in a household and water quality data from a forest stream.

Different types of Geographic data being gathered by OSC DP students in Sinharaja. Socio-economic data from Kudawa residents, spatial data in a household and water quality data from a forest stream.

Over the next two days students broke into two small groups to gather field data on their individual geographic questions. This year most students had questions that involved the home gardens and human-dominated landscapes on the park boundary. Sajni looked at soil conditions in forest and human-impacted landscapes. Mikka studied water quality and land use. Jitmi researched energy consumption patterns to devise a measure of people’s ecological footprint. Nikita assessed bird diversity to inform his question on differences in land use and habitat. Finally, Ravin looked at tourist numbers and attitudes of local residents towards the increasing importance of tourism as a strategy to improve livelihoods in the area. A highlight was building relationships through our guides with the Kudawa community. Most of these people make a living growing tea and other crops on small parcels of land (home gardens). For several men and women, guiding tourists provides an important secondary source of income. We explored remote home garden pockets to gather data and enjoyed several traditional village meals. Jackfruit curry, gotukola sambol and a special forest mushroom curry were gastronomical highlights.

Stages in generating micro hydroelectricity in Sinharaja. The examples here are simple alternators hooked up to pipes in the forest but there are other more powerful gnerators set up with funds from the ADB and other donors. Entrepreneurs can now sell electricity back to the CEB since the  area is being hooked up to the gird.

Stages in generating micro hydroelectricity in Sinharaja. The examples here are simple alternators hooked up to pipes in the forest but there are other more powerful generators set up with funds from the ADB and other donors. Entrepreneurs can now sell electricity back to the CEB since the area is being hooked up to the gird.

Chandra's house in Kudawa, overshadowed by the forests of Sinharaja (and Moulawella peak). Traditional lunch prepared by Martin's daughter in Kudawa.

A typical home garden scene in rural Sri Lanka. This is the Kudawa home of Chandra, Sinharaja’s first female nature guide. It is overshadowed by the forests of Sinharaja (and Moulawella peak). The food image shows the scrumptious traditional lunch prepared by Martin’s daughter in Kudawa.

In order to get the data gathered all groups had to do a fair amount of walking in sunny, humid conditions. There were significant physical demands as streams were forged, jungles traversed and mountains climbed in search of data. Leeches were discouraged with the famous Sinharaja leech socks and various liquid deterrents. Students and their teachers suffered little more than a few small itchy bites. The afternoon showers helped moderate the climate and on Thursday afternoon there was time to cool off in the stream near Martin’s. On the final morning we took a fast-paced trek up to Moulawella  Peak (fondly renamed “cell phone mountain” by Ravin for its clear G3 reception). Here, on a clear, rain-washed morning we appreciated the landscape taking note of vast areas of protected rainforest as well as the patchwork of tea gardens, pine plantations and other landscapes to the north and west.

We returned to Colombo on May 2nd with ample field data and experiences not to be forgotten. The class is now working to process and analyze the data, while using the school’s GIS software to provide original maps of the study site.

 

Cane () species, a favorite fro elephants, on the steep slopes of Moulawella peak.

Katu Kitul Palm (Oncosperma fasciculatum), a favorite highland palm for elephants who can get to them. Photographed on the steep slopes of Moulawella peak.

 

Selected biodiversity from a short trip to Sinharaja: Clockwise from upper left: Yellow Fronted Barbet, Fungi in secondary forest, Orange Billed Babbler, large Land snail, SL Green Pit Viper.

Selected biodiversity from a short trip to Sinharaja: Clockwise from upper left: Yellow-Fronted Barbet (Megalaima rubricapillus), fungi in secondary forest, Orange-Billed Babbler (Turdoides rufescens), large land snail, Sri Lanka Green Pit Viper (Trimeresurus trigonacephalus).

Looking south from Moulawella on a clear morning on our last day. This is a composite of four images taken with a Nikon D-800, thus producing a very, very large image. It has been reduced for this format but clicking on the image should give a better sense for the vast protected area in Sinharaja's heart.

Looking south from Moulawella on a clear morning on our last day. This is a composite of four images taken with a Nikon D-800, thus producing a very, very large image. It has been reduced for this format but clicking on the image should give a better sense for the vast protected area in Sinharaja’s heart.

OSC Class of 2015 DP Geography group on Moulawella with their teacher and guides (Gunaratna & ). It was a remarkably clear day with uninterrupted views of Sri Pada. Picture courtesy of Uthpala.

OSC Class of 2015 DP Geography group on Moulawella peak with their teacher and guides (Ponaiya & Gunaratna). It was a remarkably clear day with uninterrupted views of Sri Pada. Picture courtesy of Uthpala De Silva.

 

Looking north from Moulawella’s 760 meter peak to the Central Highlands. Sri Pada or Adam’s Peak (2,243 meters) is a point on the distant blue ridge to the right of the center.

Looking north from Moulawella’s 760 meter peak to the Central Highlands. Sri Pada or Adam’s Peak (2,243 meters) is a point on the distant, blue ridge to the right of the center. This image has also been cropped and reduced but it was clear to Horton Plains and beyond.

 

2014 Sinharaja Study Area (click on image for full 150 DPI A3 version).

2014 Sinharaja Study Area (click on image for full 150 DPI A3 version).

SINHARAJA RESEARCH

Sinharaja rainforest has been host to a number of significant scientific studies in the decades since logging operations ceased in 1977.  Several landmark ecological studies have been conducted over the last four decades. This includes the two-decade long forest dynamics study of a 25-hectare plot by the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute , Peradeniya University and several other notable institutions. A classic study on the composition and spatial organization of mixed species flocks by Sarath Kotagama and Eben Goodale from 2004 serves as a model study and journal article for OSC students.

An intriguing development in the western corner of Sinharaja is how it is being used as a location to host “reconciliation workshops” for students from all over the country. The basic idea is to bring teenage students from government schools in the conflict affected areas in the north and east of the country and foster an appreciation of nature to help provide a more lasting peace. “Reconciliation through the Power of Nature” is facilitated by the tireless work and enlightened thinking of Professor Kotagama and the Field Ornithology Group of Sri Lanka (FOGSL) with support provided by Dilmah Conservation. Martin hosts these student-teacher groups at his lodge and there are illuminating posters illustrating the goals and outcomes of the three day workshops for Jaffna schools.

SELECTED  REFERENCES

Abeywickrama. Asanga, Sinharaja Rainforest Sri Lanka. Web. 2009.

DeZoysa, Neela and Rhyana Raheem. Sinharaja: A Rainforest in Sri Lanka. Colombo: March for Conservation, 1990. Print.

Gunatilleke, C.V.S, et al. Ecology of Sinharaja Rain Forest and the Forest Dynamics Plot in Sri Lanka’s Natural World Heritage Site.Colombo: WHT Publications, 2004. Print.

Harrison, John. A Field Guide to the Birds of Sri Lanka. UK: Oxford University Press, 1999. Print.

Kotagama, Sarath W and Eben Goodale. “The composition and spatial organization of mixed-species flocks in a Sri Lankan rainforest.” Forktail. 2004. Print.

Lockwood, Ian. “Into the Wet: Field Notes From Sri Lanka’s Wet Zone.” Sanctuary Asia. August/September 2007. 3-11. Print. PDF.

Lockwood, Ian. “Montane Biodiversity in the Land of Serendipity.” Sanctuary Asia. July 2010. Print.

Sri Lanka Survey Department. Sheets 80 & 81 (1:50,000). Colombo: 1994. Maps & Spatial Data.

Warakagoda. Deepal et. al.  Birds of Sri Lanka (Helm Field Guides). London: Helms Guides, 2012. Print.

Wijeyeratne, Gehan de Silva.  Sri Lankan Wildlife (Bradt Guides). Bucks, England: Bradt Travel Ltd. 2007.Print.

Vigallon, S. The Sinharaja Guidebook for Eco-Tourists. Colombo: Stamford Lake Publications, 2007. Print.

 

PAST BLOG POSTS ON SINHARAJA

 

A Map showing Sinharaja in relationship the surrounding area. This utilizes the same Landsat 8 image from the land use map above.

A Map showing Sinharaja in relationship the surrounding area. This utilizes the same Landsat 8 image from the land use map above.

A Week Without Walls in Sinharaja

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Sinharaja morning walk…looking for bird flocks on the way to the Gallenyaya caves.

At the end of January I spent five superb days exploring different aspects of Sinharaja’s ecology, geography and human impact with sixteen Grade 10 & 11 students. Our trip was part of a larger secondary school learning exploration of Sri Lanka. The focus is on experiential education, service and addressing curricular goals outside of the traditional classroom. For the older students the trips are focused through the learning outcomes of the Creativity Action & Service  (CAS) program.

Our group started in the west with two nights at Martin’s Lodge near the Kudawa entrance. This, of course, is where the vast majority of visitors to Sinharaja go. Martin’s offers a very genuine, albeit basic, kind of ecotourism opportunity: Martin and his family are from the area, the lodge is powered by a home-made mini-hydro unit, you eat locally produced Sri Lankan food, drink clean stream water, take showers in solar heated water and enjoy many of Sinharaja’s avian highlights sipping tea on the verandah. There are few temptations to distract you, though cell phone connectivity is starting to creep in. This proved to be a bit of a distraction to several members of our party who had a challenging time being offline and away from other modern trappings.

On Wednesday we took the long and very windy road north and east of the boundary via Rakwana, Suriyakanda and Deniyaya to the incomparable Rainforest Ecolodge. During the course of the five days looked for birds, handled snakes, trekked into the deep forest to explore caves, climbed peaks, swam in cold mountain streams and tried to sit in silence in the star-lit forest (not very successful with all the giggles and leech-inspired screams). I gave several photography mini-workshops and had lots to share about he ecology, but a bad cold had robbed me of my voice. Pradeep, our other male chaperone helped me out while I rolled my eyes and tried to use sign language. Time was set aside each day all of us to reflect using journals and guiding questions. Overall the students were great and put up with the activities, conditions, numerous stops and long road trips. Their efforts to organize a clothes drive and health camp with Indrika Senaratne at the Ecolodge tea worker’s camps worked out exceedingly well and surpassed our expectations.

Meanwhile the rest of OSC’s secondary school was out and about in the different corners of Sri Lanka. This year the WWW program that I coordinate had trips in Jaffna, Anuradhapura, Arugam Bay, Bandarawella, Kitulgala, Hikkaduwa, and Galle. There were major changes this year in that the older students got to choose and then participate in the planning of their trips- modeled on the MUWCI Project Weeks that Raina and I were involved with a decade ago. This coming week we are having a WWW exhibition to share all the learning with our school community.

Forest Department map of Sinharaja

Forest Department map of Sinharaja from a signboard at the Kudawa entrance.

Sinharaja_WWW_group#1(LR)(01_13)

OSC 2013 WWW Sinharaja group at Martin’s about to hit the forest in new leech socks.

Stream at sunrise, Sinharaja

Primary forest stream at sunrise, Sinharaja

Biodiversity in Sinharaja (clockwise from upper left): Odonata sp,, Imatiens sp. , Cyrodactylus subsolanus and Nepenthes sp.

More biodiversity  that we witnessed in Sinharaja (clockwise from upper left): Pied Parasol (Neurothemis tullia), Impatiens sp. , Sinharaja Bent Toe Gecko (Cyrodactylus subsolanus) and the Sri Lanka pitcher plant  (Nepenthes distillatoria).

Medical camp run by Indrika and our OSC students at the Rainforest Ecolodge.

Medical camp run by Dr. Indrika Senaratne and our OSC students at the Rainforest Ecolodge village for tea workers.

Rainforest Ecolodge: Night and Day.

Rainforest Ecolodge: Night and Day.

View north and east from the Rainforest Ecolodge. The high ridge has notable peaks on it with Suriyakanada's towers  being at the far right.

View north and east from the Rainforest Ecolodge. The high ridge  (@1,300 m) has notable peaks on it with Suriyakanada’s towers being at the far right. Morningside is a short distance away over the forested foreground. Click on image to enlarge.

More biodiversity ():

More biodiversity (clockwise from top): Kendrikcia walkeri, ferns on the Sinhagla trail and a female Sri Lanka frogmouth (Batrachostomus moniliger)

Cave on Sinhagala trail

Chandra, the  only female nature guide working at Sinharaja, at the Gallenyaya cave on Sinhagala trail. She has been working with OSC students groups for the last seven years.

Submontane rainforest canopy from the Rainforest Ecolodge.

Sub-montane rainforest canopy from the Rainforest Ecolodge.

Leaving the forest on a beautiful morning with creation light.

Leaving the forest on a beautiful morning with creation light.

A Path Less Travelled…the Sinhagala Traverse

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Hump Nosed Lizard (Lyriocephalus scutatus) near Moulawella trail at Sinharaja

Sri Lanka’s Sinharaja rainforest has gained significant attention in the past few decades for its biodiversity and large protected area of forest in a densely populated corner of the island nation. It remains a veritable oasis of the lowland tropical rainforest vegetation that once covered much larger areas of the island’s “wet-zone.” I’ve been fortunate to be able to take student groups to Sinharaja over the past seven years and have also enjoyed several personal visits. The field study trips are usually oriented around the IB Diploma Geography Internal Assessment that requires field-work. Increasingly we have been looking to study human-ecosystem relationships and interactions (with the aid of GIS and spatial data of the area) around the popular Kudawa entrance. However, there is much more to Sinharaja that few visitors see. and on a recent trip a group of friends and I had a chance to make a long traverse over little-used paths that connect the two major entrances.

This August group of friends and I had a chance to make the  long traverse over little-used paths that connect the two major entrances of Sinharaja. We started in the west at the Kudawa entrance and ended in the eastern portions that my family and I had visited in May. Together with friends at the Rainforest Ecolodge we were looking to see if a day-long trek from the Kudawa entrance to the Pitadeniya exit was a feasible option to take a student group. We did the trek via Sinhagala, the “lion rock” that is a significant point at the center of Sinharaja. Though few people actually visit it, the peak has significant cultural importance and is associated with stories of the advent of the Sinhalese people. Sinhagala is roughly 17 km from the core-zone entrance above Kudawa while on the map it is a shorter 10 km to Pitadeniya from the summit. Our team was composed of four friends and faculty members from the Overseas School of Colombo. As per park rules, we hired a guide to take us to Sinhagala peak (he returned after leaving us at the peak). Meanwhile our friend Krishan from the Rainforest Ecolodge organized a team to come up and rendezvous with us at Sinhagala.

The path to Sinhagala is arguably one of the most beautiful rainforest walks that you can do in South Asia. The trail follows a long overgrown logging road that snakes into the heart of the reserve and exposes you to amazing swathes of primary and secondary forest. The walking is not challenging from the perspective of physical terrain and the altitude gain is less than 300 meters. However, the path does take time and for this reason most visitors to Sinharaja are reluctant to invest 8-9 hours of walking round trip to see it. If you are interested in stopping to watch bird flocks and look for snakes, lizards and other interesting creatures the walk can be frustrating since there is little time to indulge in such delights.

Most of the bridges and culverts have been washed out and it is difficult to imagine that 35 years ago large trucks were using the same pathways to decimate the timber of Sinharaja! Now the machinery is long gone and the forest has made a startling recovery such that most people can not distinguish between unlogged primary forest and tracts of secondary forest that had once been clear cut. In fact this is really the beauty of the Sinharaja story: the protection and restoration of a tropical rainforest through the efforts of citizens and scientists who helped raise awareness at a time when “rainforests” and “biodiversity” were not in the public’s vocabulary. In the 1970s forest was simply another commodity to be commercially exploited.  The tireless work of those individuals and civil society groups is now something that we visitors benefit from.

Leaving the tourist zone and heading into less trodden areas of the forest on the Sinhagala trail.

Tim Getter crossing a stream flooding over the remains of a logging road on the Sinhagala trail.

After a breakfast and tea at Martin’s Forest Lodge we set off at a good pace and were the first visitors into the tourist zone. The forest was waking up after a night of nearly continuous rain, but he day was to be free of serious precipitation. In the distance we could hear the sounds of mixed species flocks and the dull echoing, reverberations of the endemic Purple Faced Langurs (Trachypithecus vetulus).  A Sri Lankan Jungle Fowl (Gallus lafayetii) strutted across the road unconcerned by our presence- I think every visitor see (and probably feeds) the same bird. We heard the distinct wind up sounds of the more elusive Sri Lanka Spur Fowl (Galloperdix bicalcarata). This is an area that I usually walk through slowly in order to observe and appreciate lesser life forms. However, we had a long path to traverse and made fast time in this more easily accessible area.

At the research center (a place that once hosted the workshop for the mechanized logging operations) the trail thins and it is clear that the Sinhagala trail is a different sort of route. The path was overgrown with tree ferns, shrubs and pioneer tree species competing to take advantage of the break in the canopy. Every so often fallen giants of trees created barriers that we negotiated around, under or through.  The leaches very plentiful but the Kudawa leech socks allowed us to focus on more interesting creatures. Occasionally I would catch glimpses of frogs hopping away from the pathway. Giant Wood Spiders (Nephia maculata) were numerous as were the large millipedes (Spirotripetus sp.). We saw a third Sri Lanka Hump Nosed Lizard (Lyriocephalus scutatus) but did not spend time with it as we had with the male and female that we had seen in the tourist zone the day before (see photographs below). Enormous growths of pitcher plants (Nepethnes distillatoria) covered what were once ugly road cuts. They thrive in the brightly lit areas stripped of the thin topsoil. They thrive in the brightly lit areas stripped of the thin topsoil making up for the nutrient deficiencies with the insets that they digest.

Britton Riehm negotiating dense vegetation below Sinhagala peak.

Three hours after starting out the Sinhagala path left the old logging road trail and took us over several hillocks before following a boulder-strewn stream upwards. The dense forest make locating ourselves in the landscape impossible though we knew that we were at the base of Sinhagala. Moss-covered rocks in the stream slowed us down. In the last stretch the pathway followed a steep incline amongst the drooping lianas and buttresses of enormous forest giants. Granite boulders covered in gray-green lichens provided small sheltered spaces-perhaps more often used by leopards than humans in this very far away corner of Sri Lanka. And then the pathway abruptly passed though a break in vegetation and opened up over a cliff face. Through the break we were treated to a stunning panoramic view over the forest tracts of central Sinharaja. Below the cliffs was a scene of multiple valleys of rainforest canopy, sheltered by the rugged cliffs and hills that made up the range. To the East were the higher mist-shrouded ranges where we would go later that night. It wasn’t all unblemished landscape and in the distance were the clearcut slopes of land to be planted with tea. There were also the ubiquitous cell phone towers on the summits of several distant ranges to the south. This was our half way point and we breathed in the view while we waited for Krishan’s group to join us.

Collage of views from Sinhgala , the Sinhagala trail and a Sri Lanka Green Pit Viper (Trimeresurus trigonocephalus).

Rainforest canopy as seen from Sinhagala peak.

Forest crown near the end of the trail above Pitadeniya (@ 300 meters).

Series of images of species encountered on the Sinhagala traverse. The endemic Hump Nosed Lizard (Lyriocephalus scutatus) both female (left) and male (right) and Sri Lanka Blue Magpie (Urocissa ornata) at center. In the corners are two still-to-be identified damselflies.

Krishan, his wife Indrika (who works with us at OSC), their two enthusiastic children and several others arrived on Sinhagala around 2:00. They were exhausted and drenched in sweat having just taken a very steep, overgrown trail up to the peak. Because of the hour there was little time for rest and we soon got going to descend on the trail that they had just spent so many hours climbing up. On the map it looked like a short distance but it ended up being a significant hike to get out. Krishan’s group had two guides and they were accompanied by Dulan Vidanapathirana who is a reptiles expert helping out at the Rainforest Ecolodge.  We set a good pace but with the impending darkness there was little time to appreciate the forest and it denizens. When we finally emerged at the Pitadeniya entrance it was dark and we were worn out in that most positively fulfilled way!

It was another two-hour, zig-zagged drive up to the Rainforest Ecolodge where we spent a night and morning recovering in comfort. I awoke to a flock of Blue Magpies- the signature endemic bird of Sinharaja- making a racket right outside my capsule-room.  Soon after I accompanied Dulan on a short walk before breakfast- enough time to take in the magnificent forest and learn about the areas geckos, frogs and shield tails. Unfortunately we had to get back and left before lunch to return to our jobs, demands and lives in Colombo. The traverse from Kudawa to Pitadeniya was unforgettable and it helped me plan for the upcoming trip in January. I will modify the challenge and take our students in smaller segments, allowing for a deeper appreciation of Sinharaja’s landscape and ecology.

Rainforest crown in Sinharaja East at 1,000 meters. Here the structure and composition of species is quite different from the lower forests at Kudawa and Petadeniya.

Using Landsat Imagery in the Western Ghats & Sri Lanka Biodiversity Hotspot

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Annotated map of the southern Western Ghats created on ArcMap

In the last six months I have been spending significant amounts of my free time learning about the Landsat program and how to access and analyze their 40-year archive of data, which is now freely available. I was initially motivated by several mosaics of remote sensing imagery that I saw at ATREE’s Ecoinformatics lab, the IWMI GIS lab and MIRSAC in Aizawl. Then earlier in the year I was gifted a copy of Remote Sensing for Ecology and Conservation through a program run by the Natural History Book Shop (NHBS) in London. The book is the result of collaboration between NASA and members of the Center for Biodiversity & Conservation at the American Museum of Natural History. It gives a very thorough overview of using satellite imagery in aid of conservation goals and has proven to be an indispensible aid in helping me understand the uses and applications of remote sensing. My interest is in applying the data and analytical techniques in areas of the Western Ghats and Sri Lanka that I have worked in, photographed, written about and taken students to.

In July the Landsat program celebrated 40 years of earth observation and analysis. They have made almost the entire archive of spatial data available to the public through the USGS Glovis site. I have started downloading some of the tiles with the goal of looking at temporal changes in vegetation and land use in areas in the southern Western Ghats and Sri Lanka. One approach is to use a photo editing software package (Adobe Photoshop etc.) to analyze the images but I have been interested in GIS and analytical applications of the imagery. Since most of my work with GIS is based on ESRI’s Arc platform of software it seemed sensible to use Arc Map and the Spatial Analysis extension to work with the imagery.  However, if you are just starting off there are now freeware options available in software such as Q-GIS. The Indian government has made archival remote sensing imagery, including multi-spectral files, available on its Bhuvan site. I have not yet had time to explore these options and have been focused on trying to learn how to import, mosaic and analyze the NASA Landsat data through ESRI’s software.

For educators, curious people and novices such as myself the internet has provided an easy way to access and learn how to use and analyze remote sensing data. There is a wealth of online tutorial information available for using the Landsat archive. NASA, of course, has numerous links and a good place to start is the Landsat homepage. There are also other data portals such as ArcGIS Online, the University of Maryland’s Global Land Cover Facility and USGS’s Earth Resources Observation & Science (EROS). I am regularly updating my GIS Links page on my Mangotree teaching Wikisite with links to tutorials etc. on remote sensing, Landsat etc.

This Image of the High Range, Anaimalais and Palani Hills was taken by Landsat 1 in July 1973. Water bodies such as the Vaigai dam and larger reservoirs in the High Range and Anaimalais are prominent. Overall levels of vegetation are generally high presumably because of the onset of the South West Monsoon in the previous month. The significant feature in this image is how wide spread montane grasslands are! In subsequent years these were largely converted to commercial plantations of non- native tree species. The image awaits further analysis to make quantifications of various land uses and changes.

As aspect of the Landsat archive that fascinates me is the opportunity to do temporal studies of changes in land use in areas that I have first hand knowledge of. As is well documented, significant changes have happened in the land use in critical areas in the Western Ghats and Sri Lanka biodiversity hotspot in the last 40 years. Forest loss is perhaps what first comes to mind. But perhaps more difficult to track has been the change of forest cover or vegetation type. For example large swathes of high-altitude grasslands were converted in the 1970s and 1980s to fuelwood plantations of monoculture species. Eventually we should be able to do detailed studies of vegetation changes in critical hill ranges such as the Nilgiris, Palanis, Anaimalais and High Range using some of the tools that are available on modern GIS software.

Sinharaja Rainforest Landsat view highlighting the thermal band and closed canopy evergreen rainforest within its boundaries.

Sinharaja West, Sinharaja East (Part II)

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Montane forest at 1,000 meters at the Tea Estate adjacent to the Rainforest Ecolodge.

The remote higher reaches of the UNESCO-designated Sinharaja Man and Biosphere reserve are located at the union of three southern districts; Ratnapura, Galle and Mattara. It’s an area that you hear about more often than visit and, like most Colombo-based bird watchers and wildlife enthusiasts, I had focused my past visits on the western Kudawa side. Last week our family had a unique opportunity to explore and visit the eastern portions of Sinharaja above the small settlement of Viharahenaa.

In the east the Ruakwana Hills that host Sinharaja rise up to 1,150+ meters and the dominant vegetation type is montane forest, rather than lowland tropical rainforest. This is one of the wettest areas in the country with annual rainfall falling in a range of 3,600-5,000 mm. However, just a few kilometers eastwards and the climate reverts to the dry zone! The natural vegetation and contours of the land are reminiscent of the wind swept forests that cloak the Peak Wilderness and Horton Plains areas in the Central Highlands. Emergent trees have exquisite, gnarled branches. There are also interesting parallels to the evergreen rainforests of Kakachi in the Ashambu Hills in the southernmost Western Ghats.

Several years ago our family circumnavigated the northern border of Sinharaja, passing from Rakwana around the eastern border and Suriyakanda to Deniyaya. At that time we had glimpses of the higher forests but we were unable to explore into the area. The Forest Department maintains a bungalow at an area called Morningside and it remains an intriguing destination to get to. It has been notable for the number of new amphibian species that have been discovered by University of Peradeniya researchers (see Froglog and the The Island for details). Suiyakanda is visible from afar because of a series of transmission towers that crown it. It lies beyond the Sinharaja PA boundaries but there is still significant undisturbed forest in its vicinity. In the last year there has been a flurry of articles in the Sri Lankan press related to a controversial road that is being built connecting Suiyakanda to Kalawana (see the Sunday Leader and Sunday Times).

Google Earth Pro map of Sinharaja area with Forest Department PA boundary overlaid. Significant points are tagged.

On this visit we were guests at the Rainforest Ecolodge a new establishment that is the product of careful thought and an innovative low-impact conceptual plan.  Their goal is to have a minimalistic but luxurious lodge that caters to ecotourists, with a sensitive approach to assisting local communities. Many of the large Sri Lankan tourist operators (Jetwings, Atikin Spence etc.) are shareholders, in a unique collaborative effort. The project was facilitated by USAID’s competitiveness initiative.  The location (E  6.389351°, N 80.596336°) and forest-dominated landscape is what moved me most.  A dozen chalets and the main hotel structure are built on a slim finger of tea that is surrounded by montane forest. Guests are housed in chalets made of recycled containers with a conscious effort to minimize the use of concrete. They sit on stilts above the tea with a patio facing the forest. The hospitality and attention to detail were second to none, reminding us again about why Sri Lanka is such a leader in high-end tourism. The concern for the local community, comprised largely of Tamil estate workers, seemed genuine and much more than mere tokenism. Nearly everyone working at the Ecolodge was drawn from these communities and lower elevation settlements near Viharahenaa.

Getting to and from the location was certainly a big part of the adventure but the major highlight was taking a morning exploratory walk through forest and into patanas. We were lead by the energetic guides Kumara and Sanjeeva who are building up a knowledge base of the area’s biodiversity. The two children of our hosts Indrika and Krishan also accompanied our family. The patanas, or grasslands formerly hosted tea gardens but have been abandoned several years ago and are gradually reverting to wilder states though a process of ecological succession.  They adjoin the actual Sinharaja PA border, which we never actually entered.

Exploring patanas and montane forest near the Ecolodge

An interesting observation was the extent to which pitcher plants (Nepenthes distillatoria) are recolonizing these former tea fields. Given that the plants prefer nutrient poor soil (they derive their nutrients from insects) it makes sense, still it is better than invasive species such as Lantana camara taking over!  We had an opportunity to follow one of the Gin Ganga’s tributaries up through cascades of clear mountain water, large boulders and thickets of tree ferns. Odonata species were numerous and we had fairly good sightings of bird and butterfly species too. The Sri Lankan keelback (Xenochrophis asperrimus) pictured in the post almost got stepped on by five-year-old Amy when we were passing her down a steep bit of steam. She and the snake remained very calm and it was kind enough to pose for our cameras.

In the near future we are looking to bring a group of OSC students here for rainforest studies and perhaps a new community service initiative.

Montane forest canopy and stream view in the Rainforest Ecolodge vicinity.

Diversity from a fleeting visit to Sinharaja East. (Clockwise from upper left) female Hyleaothemis fruhstorfori which is endemic to Sinharaja, the endemic Sri Lanka Keelback Xenochrophis asperrimus, butterfly to be identified, patanas flowers to be identified.

Tea picker with Ecolodge chalets in the background.

Looking north over tea and montane forest towards Suriyakanda.

Ecolodge restaurant view looking west.

Rainforest Ecolodge chalets, tea and montane forest.

Montane forest panorama at 1,000 meters at the tea estate adjacent to the Rainforest Ecolodge.

Written by ianlockwood

2012-05-15 at 5:31 pm

Sinharaja West, Sinharaja East (Part I)

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Variations on the Sinharaja rainforest canopy highlighting undisturbed primary forest on the ridge with secondary growth on the lower slopes (evidenced by Calamus sp. etc.). The images were taken on a Nikon digital SLR, processed on Adobe Photoshop CS5 and then manipulated with Nik software’s ColorEfex 4 plugin.

Sinharaja, the resplendent tropical lowland rainforest in south-western Sri Lanka, is a remarkable protected area, UNESCO world heritage site and living laboratory. For the last seven years it has provided an important field study site for my Geography and Environmental Systems classes at the Overseas School of Colombo. It is a large protected area (11,187 ha) and in all my years in Sri Lanka I have focused on visits to the biodiversity-rich western corner. In the last 10 days I have had the privilege of visiting both western and higher eastern portions (the next post will highlight the visits to the less-visited, higher altitude eastern areas of Sinharaja).

In early May OSC’s grade 11 IBDP Geography students had four days of rich and productive fieldwork in Sinharaja’s western (Kudawa) corner. As on past trips, the focus of the trip was for the students to collect field data for their internal assessment that accounts for 20-25% of their final grade. In years past we focused on the ecosystems angle of the tropical rainforest but with the revisions in the syllabus we are now looking at tourism as a development strategy, the theme of “biodiversity and change” and issues surrounding home garden agriculture. Land use patterns and spatial analysis are important aspects for all groups and thanks to Survey Department data from 2005 we are able to map and make attempts to verify the accuracy of this data using our ArcGIS software.

This year we utilized the new southern expressway and were up at our host Martin’s Jungle Lodge by noon. His lodge has ideal conditions for a forest experience sitting on the boundary between the buffer and core zone of the protected area. There is excellent secondary forest that attracts most of the endemic birds and a clear stream for guests to cool off in the afternoon. Electricity is generated by a small micro-turbine and there is limited cell phone coverage (thankfully).  Weather conditions were dry, a surprise after the deluge that Colombo had experienced on April 30th.

Collage showing three significant habitats that were used as study sites for students. The first is a canopy view over primary forest taken on Moulawella Peak in the core zone of Sinharaja, the second shows secondary forest mixed with a non-native pine plantation in the buffer zone. Finally the last images shows tea estates sandwiched between the small settlement of Kuduwa and the park boundary.

Thirteen students of varying nationalities (Sri Lanka, India, Finland, Canada, Switzerland, USA etc.) joined the trip.  I was supported by Eileen Niedermann, our secondary school principal and Haris Dharmasiri, OSC’s resourceful lead science technician. Lilani Ranasigha traded places with Eileen half way through the trip. After getting settled in we started the experience with a walk and introductory lecture to the Sinharaja core area. In years past we’ve been fortunate to have Professor Sarath Kotagama to give us the context for Sinharaja’s protection and what kind of significant threat the systematic logging posed in the 1970s. That afternoon we traversed the well-worn tourist paths though secondary, primary and ridge forests as we moved towards the research station. This is a major focal point (and former logging camp/maintenance depot) for all visitors to this side of Sinharaja and we use it as a base for studies in primary and secondary forests. The Blue Magpies (Urocissa ornata) did not disappoint and swooped down to give us an intimate encounter. The students were still consumed with removing leaches, something that would soon become an insignificant inconvenience.

Over the next two days students broke into small groups to gather field data on their individual questions. We had a group looking at plant species in different habitats, another studying soil in forest and human-impacted landscapes, a group of three studying water quality in forest streams and home garden water bodies, a group looking at tourist numbers and the idea of ecotourism and finally a group conducting an energy audit and survey of homes in the buffer zone of Sinharaja. Needless to say we chaperones could not monitor all of these simultaneously and the trip is designed for students to conduct a fair amount of independent data collection. During the course of the trip we had a chance to accompany each group, provide feedback and observe their methodology.

OSC students collecting different types of data in Sinharaja for their Geography IAs. At the top students (Uvin, Brooke, Rachel & Alisha) conducting an interview with a resident about the impact of ecotourism on livelihoods. Sarah, Janik and Nadeera testing stream water samples at Martin’s Lodge. Vera and Alisha aided by Ratna identifying key plant species along a 15 meter transect in secondary forest. Lastly, Uvin using a 10 m2 quadrat to look at invasive plants in a home garden plot about to be planted with tea.

Sinharaja rainforest canopy panorama highlighting undisturbed primary forest on the ridge with secondary growth on the lower slopes. Moulawella is the center peak in the background.

Tropical Rainforest, near the Sinharaja Research Center

Ongoing experiments with spatial data from the Sinharaja area using Arcmap. We have fairly good data from the Survey Department and other sources and are now looking to effectively use it to give a spatial perspective to individual studies. Close inspection reveals issues with correctly georeferencing some of the data at a large scale.

Sinharaja has hosted several landmark ecological studies including the two decade long forest dynamics study of a 25 hectare plot by the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute and Peradeniya University and several other notable educational institutions. A classic study on the composition and spatial organization of mixed species flocks by Sarath Kotagama and Eben Goodale from 2004 serves as a model study and journal article for OSC students. Compared to these landmark studies our fleeting encounter yields limited data. The data that we gather on the trip is useful for the students’ work but at this point is not contributing to any long term monitoring of the area.  What we are doing is getting a better sense of land use and home garden that should serve as an important evidence of patterns at this point in time.

An intriguing development in the western corner of Sinharaja is how it is being used as a location to host “reconciliation workshops” for students from all over the country.  The basic idea is to bring teenage students from government schools in the conflict affected areas in the north and east of the country and foster an appreciation of nature to help provide a more lasting peace. “Reconciliation through the Power of Nature” is facilitated by the tireless work and enlightened thinking of Professor Kotagama and the Field Ornithology Group of Sri Lanka (FOGSL) with support provided by Dilmah Conservation. Martin hosts these student-teacher groups at his lodge and there are illuminating posters illustrating the goals and outcomes of the three day workshops for Jaffna schools.

Sri Lanka/Ceylon Frogmouth (Batrachostomus moniliger). Adolescent male and adult female.

Birds and the rich diversity of Sri Lankan endemics is what first drew me to Sinharaja in 1999. During a 4 day visit with my cousin Anna we trekked all over the different paths, including Moulawella and Sinhagala, looking for mixed species flocks and using just binoculars and field guides (no cameras!). On this trip to Sinharaja I had less time for birds because of the focus on human impact and land use patterns. However, we did encounter several mixed species flocks and had delightful views of a Red Faced Malkoha (Phaenicophaeus pyrrhocephalus) and Malabar Trogon (Harpactes fasciatus) as well as the other flock members. A highlight for me was getting to observe and photograph a pair of Sri Lanka Frogmouths (Batrachostomus moniliger) on the return from our hike to Moulawella. They were located by our energetic and informed guides Dinushka, Shanta and Ratna in a thicket of tree ferns. All the students got to see the endemic Sri Lanka Green Pit Viper (Trimeresurus trigonocephalus) and a shy Hump Nosed lizard (Lyriocephalus scuatus) up close. We returned to Colombo n May 3rd with plenty of field data and experiences not to be forgotten. I was delighted with the outcomes of the trip and the knowledge that I was turning around with my family to visit the other end of Sinharaja on the next day!

Emblematic species from Sinharaja seen on the trip (clockwise from upper left): Ceylon or SL frogmouth (Batrachostomus moniliger) adolescent male and adult female, Pitcher plant (Nepenthes distillatoria) in a former pinus plantation, SL Green Pit Viper (Trimeresurus trigonocephalus) and the SL Blue Magpie (Urocissa ornata).

Rainforest emergent layer and canopy, looking southwards from Moulawella Peak after a climb up with most of the group on Thursday morning.

Study area map

OSC’s Class of 2013 Geography students at a playful final group picture after four days of productive research and fieldwork. Our host Martin is seated second from the right. Haris Dharmasiri, OSC’s lab technician par-excellence is seated on the far left while Lilani Ranasingha, our energetic female chaperone is seated on the far right.

GIS Developments at OSC in 2011

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Sinharaja rainforest in the south west portion of Sri Lanka has been an ideal field study site for OSC’s DP Geography and Environmental Systems a& Societies classes for the last seven years. Increasingly, with changes in the syllabi, we have been looking at interactions between human communities and the different ecosystems that are a part of this World Heritage Site. Use of spatial data and mapping study sites using GIS have become integral to our studies.

The last year has seen continued growth go the GIS program at the Overseas School of Colombo. We continue to maintain a concurrent license of ESRI’s ArcMap 10, together with several extensions (3D, spatial analysis etc.) in a package designed for schools, universities and libraries. We have invested in spatial data from the Sri Lanka Survey Department and have obtained vector data for our study sites at Sri Pada/Peak Wilderness and Sinharaja rainforest. Equally important has been the contribution of data and guidance from several national and international organizations in Colombo. Dilip Hensman at the World Health Organization (WHO) has helped us with up-to-date data on health outbreaks, notably dengue at a district and DS (Divisional Secretary)  level in Sri Lanka. Skylor Knoll utilized this in his world studies extended essay. He investigated spatial patterns of rainfall and dengue–related mortality over a two-year period. Tushara at the World Food Program (WFP) has been a helpful guide with understanding and using up-to-date SRTM data. In the previous year he presented a lecture on how the WFP uses GIS to better provide food to (flood and conflict) affected areas in Sri Lanka. Senior student Camie Raguin conducted a short environmental impact assessment as part of her extended essay in the northern areas. With the aid of the able skills of Alex Mylvaganam, she was able to utilize UNDP spatial data to produce her own basic locational maps of her study site. Salman Sidique and his team including Ad Ranjit and Sajid remain one of my best resources for tinkering help. IWMI’s GeoPortal is a great place for free vector data of Sri Lanka and the basin areas where they are working.

Sample student work (Satyanshu & Vera) from a study on demographic trends in contrasting countries using age-sex pyramids generated on ArcView by the Grade 11 DP Geography class in the Fall of 2011.

OSC students in Sinharaja negotiating moss covered boulders along a riparian patch of unlogged forest near the research station. Group shot with Martin at his lodge at the end of the study, a tradition started on our first study in 2005.

One result of our continued GIS development at OSC is that this year’s IBDP Geography classes produced far superior maps of the IA field study site at Sinharaja. This year almost many of the students looked at some aspect of land use in the area and all the students created their own original maps (see samples below). The 1:50,000 vector data from the Sri Lanka Survey Department may be slightly dated but it provides a good basis for ground truthing and observation. We have more GPS units and thus teams can go in different directions to gather data simultaneously. The field visit happened in May 2011 but it took several months to process the data and to finally write it up into their final reports that will be submitted for the DP Geography exams 2012.

Three different maps from the Sinharaja Geography IA showing land use data, GPS points and the ranges of colorful options that students have when putting together their individual study maps. The picture shows a transect traversing a stream in primary forest above the Sinharaja research center. Maps by Terunaga (above two) and Sascha (below).

Collecting different types of data: Harini interviewing a woman about social economic conditions and home garden crop choices, Sascha checking water quality (temperature, turbidity, DO etc.) below Sinharaja using a Vernier probe and students taking GPS points along a secondary forest transect in Sinharaja’s Core Zone.

Sample student work from the MYP Humanities course. Leila, Tomosso and Dylan’s presentations of their spatial studies of the monsoon and other factors (human population, crop choices, land forms etc.). The posters were generated on ArcMap 10 after doing individual analysis on each data frame.

The Grade 10 MYP Geography class, which is now integrated with the History course, spends its first term looking at aspects of the monsoon in South Asia. This is broad-based learning activity that looks at physical aspects of the monsoon, its affect on agriculture in the region and what impact it has on South Asian culture. Most of the time is spent exploring and extended a lesson on the South Asian monsoon that is a module in Anita Palmer et al. Mapping Our World Using GIS. The study coincides with the end of the South West monsoon and the onset of the North East here in Sri Lanka. An amusing aspect is capping the unit off with a showing of a condensed version of Lagaan, the Oscar-nominated Bollywood film. In the story a severe drought and the monsoon serve as important metaphorical backdrops to a lengthy cricket battle in a fictional location in western India during the late 19th Century. The students produced an annotated poster illustrating a geographical question and aspects of their investigation. They need to include 1-3 maps, graphs and annotations (samples above). This will be submitted as moderated samples for their Humanities course.

Personal explorations with GIS Data from South Asia. The two larger scale maps were used for various assessments in MYP, while the Arugam Bay land use was an exercise in using different layers of data from Sri Lanka’s East Coast. The data on the above left map of South Asia is courtesy Natural Earth, which has a free global data set with elevations and bathymetric data.

GIS generated map showing OSC’s post-tsunami supported pre-schools near Hambantota.

On a personal level I made strides in developing my own cartographic skills using GIS when I had to design and produce several maps for my Sri Pada exhibition. “Necessity is the mother of invention” and I continue to get some of my best work done under such conditions. One of the maps below highlights the OSC service projects with Tsunami affected communities in the Hambantota area.

I have also started to explore a variety of other GIS applications, though because we have the license most of my efforts have been focused on ArcView skills. There are now several open-source GIS software packages, including Q-GIS. I have also started to build up a personal teaching Wiki for students to use as an online repository of links and references. I have a dedicated page of GIS Resources with special focus on Sri Lanka and South Asia.  In this next year I hope to polish student skills for use in their course, continue to build up our database of spatial data and to further explore different GIS applications in education.

Written by ianlockwood

2012-01-22 at 5:44 am

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