Ian Lockwood

MUSINGS, TRIP ACCOUNTS AND IMAGES FROM SOUTH ASIA

Posts Tagged ‘Colombo

Teaching & Learning in Colombo’s Suburban Wetlands

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School students navigating the narrow canals of the newly designated Thalawathugoda Biodiversity Park as part of the Urban Fishing Cat workshops in September 2016.

School students navigating the narrow canals of the newly designated Thalawathugoda Biodiversity Park as part of the Urban Fishing Cat workshops in September 2016.

Sri Lanka’s primate city of Colombo has been growing rapidly in recent years. What were once the hinterlands of Colombo are now being absorbed into the urban expanse as it radiates outwards in all directions (including into the Indian Ocean where the controversial Port City project has resumed). Colombo has its origins as a spice trading port that developed under colonial rule and later become the capital of independent Ceylon (now Sri Lanka). The land that the city would eventually occupy was low and much of the city is a few meters above sea level. The Kelani River and its drainage basin form a northern boundary to the city center. While some wetlands were filled in and built up during the early history of Colombo’s development, significant wetland areas have been maintained to mitigate flood events and (more recently) to protect biodiversity. This is especially true in the area around the new capital at Sri Jayewardenepura. The Overseas School of Colombo , which is just above a kilometer from parliament, is located within close proximity to several of these wetland areas and these sites have become important outdoor classrooms for student learning.

Wetland snapshots. (Clockwise from upper left) Lily underside being used in a reflectance/absorbance experiment, Bedaganna walkway, club tail (Ictinogomphus rapax) at Talangama, OSC Class of 2016 students doing a line transect of water plants as part of the Group IV project.

Colombo urban wetland snapshots. (clockwise from upper left) Lily underside being used in a reflectance/absorbance experiment, Beddagana walkway, club tail (Ictinogomphus rapax) at Talangama, OSC Class of 2016 students doing a line transect of water plants as part of the Group IV project.

Colombo’s wetlands are faced with several challenges.

  • Illegal filling in of wetlands: This is done to facilitate property and real estate development. With the growth of the city there is significant pressure on wetland area
  • Water/effluent pollution: The wetlands are on the receiving end of effluents and other water pollution that is fed through municipal drains. Many of the wetlands in downtown Colombo are virtually dead as a result of this.
  • Waste dumping: The illegal dumping of municipal solid waste (MSW) is a growing problem in the Colombo areas and wetland areas are unfortunately popular with individuals and groups that dump bags of mixed waste.
  • Poaching of animals: It’s not fully clear how significant a problem this is but there is some evidence of poaching of small mammals, water-fowl and reptiles in what are otherwise biodiverse rich wetland areas.
Assessing water quality at Talangama wetlands (clockwise from upper left): DP students conducting a biotic index study of an irrigation canal that is fed by the Talangama tank, checking water quality using Vernier Labquest probes (temperature here).

Assessing water quality at Talangama wetlands (clockwise from upper left): DP students conducting a biotic index study of an irrigation canal that is fed by the Talangama tank, checking water quality using Vernier Labquest probes (temperature here-in front of men washing a motorcycle in the lake).

Urban Fishing Cat Workshops. Images from the Environmental Foundation (EF) sponsored workshop that OSC participated in at the newly designated Thalawathagoda Wetland Study Park last month. The workshop featured the important work of xxx and other projects to protect urban wetlands and their diversity.

Urban Fishing Cat Workshops. Images from the Environmental Foundation Ltd. (EFL) sponsored workshop that OSC participated in at the newly designated Thalawathugoda Wetland Study Park last month. The workshop featured the important work of Anya Ratnayake and other projects to protect urban wetlands and their diversity.

The Thalangama Wetlands have been an important study site for OSC students. They also play a key role in flood mitigation, the provision of irrigation water and a place for wetland biodiversity to thrive.

The Thalangama Wetlands have been an important study site for OSC students. They play a key role in flood mitigation, the provision of irrigation water and a place for wetland biodiversity to thrive.They are a favorite spot for birdwatchers and other wildlifers.

Here is a listing of wetlands study sites located in OSC/Pelawatte vicinity:

Study Site 1: Talangama Wetlands

The Talangama Wetlands located east of the school campus (6.888894° N, 79.947727°E) have provided our oldest wetlands learning site. This is a historic irrigation tank that was designed to help provide farmers with water during dry periods, but it also harbors significant wetland areas. It is a rich area for wetland biodiversity, namely bird species. OSC works collaboratively with the Field Ornithology Group of Sri Lanka to raise funds to promote conservation awareness in the area. In 2005 OSC and FOGSL published Student’s Wetland Pictorial Resource Book: Talangama Wetlands Tank. For many years the school and its PTA hosted an annual “Walk for the Wetlands” though this has regrettably not happened recently. In more recent years the DP Environmental Systems & Societies class has been studying water quality in Talangama. For several years the DP Group IV project has been hosted at the wetlands where a variety of student led studies have explored themes of plants, invasive species, water quality and biodiversity in the area. The site is managed by the Irrigation Department, whose mission involves water management rather than biodiversity protection.

Dry & wet conditions over the course of a week at Beddagana Wetlands Park. The dry spell in September and early October was unusual and normally there is water in this part of the park.

Dry & wet conditions over the course of a week at Beddagana Wetlands Park. The dry spell in September and early October was unusual and normally there is water in this part of the park.

Study Site 2: Beddagana Wetland Park

The Beddagana Wetland Park (6.891418° N, 79.909080°E) is a newly designated protected area on the western edge of the Sri Jayewardenepura Kotte /Diyawanna (parliament) lake. It was set over the last few years up by the Urban Development Authority (UDA) with support of the World Bank. Beddagana’s forests are actually part of the Sri Jayewardenepura Wildlife Sanctuary that is managed by the Department of Wildlife Conservation. The area has walkways, hides and towers that offer unprecedented access to different micro-habitats in the wetlands.

Views from the Biodiversity Study Park, Thalawathugoda. It will be opening to the public shortly.

Views from the Biodiversity Study Park, Thalawathugoda. It will be opening to the public shortly.

Study Site 3: Biodiversity Study Park, Thalawathugoda

This is the newest wetland study site to be designated and is the closest to the OSC campus. At the time of writing the Biodiversity Study Park, Thalawathugoda (6.880016°N, 79.930402°) had not been officially opened. It is being sponsored by the Land Reclamation and Development Corporation and hosts a series of islands and channels that offer excellent study opportunities. OSC participated in an Urban Fishing Cat workshop led by Anya Ratnayake and hosted by the Environment Foundation Ltd. in early September 2016. We are looking forward to its formal inauguration and opening to the public.

Study Site 4: Water’s Edge area

The area around Water’s Edge (6.905529°N, 79.910093°E) was once an un-managed wetland and then a golf course before being converted by the UDA into a multiple-role recreational area. There are still several fine patches of wetland vegetation with convenient walkways that facilitate observation of wetland species but the area experiences large numbers of visitors that can reduce wildlife sightings.

GIS-generated map of urban wetlands near to OSC. Double click on image for larger A3 15- DPI version.

GIS-generated map of urban wetlands near to OSC. Double click on image for larger A3 15- DPI version.

REFERENCES

Bedjanič, Matjaž et al. Dragonfly Fauna of Sri Lanka: Distribution and Biology With Threat Status of its Endemics. Sofia, Bulgaria: Pensoft, 2014. Print.

Boyle, Richard. “Diyawanna Oya: A Suburban Wetland To Savour.” Serendib. October 2014. Web.

Field Ornithology Group of Sri Lanka. Student’s Wetland Pictorial Resource Book: Talangama Wetlands Tank. Colombo: FOGSL, 2005. Print.

Land Reclamation and Development Corporation. Biodiversity Study Park, Thalawathugoda. Web. Also

Malawatte, Vinod. “The Urban Wetlands Of Colombo: A Spongy Wildlife Refuge Within The City.” Roar.lk. 26 February 2016. Web.

Ministry of Megapolis and Western Development. Web. In particular see Masterplan.

Ramsar. Sri Lanka Profile. Web.

Urban Development Authority. Beddagana Wetlands Park. Web.

Urban Development Authority. Environmental Management Plan (January 2014).

Urban Fishing Cat Conservation Project. Facebook Page.

Wijeyeratne, GehanDe Silva. Sri Lanka Wildlife. Bucks, England, Bradt, 2007. Print. (see page 20 for review of Talangama).

World Bank. Beddaganna Wetlands Park Fact Sheet. 17 June 2016. Web.

Written by ianlockwood

2016-10-20 at 11:32 pm

Rainfall Changes in the OSC Neighborhood

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OSC's Weather Bug weather station located on the auditorium roof. A lightening strike in September pulverized the anemometer (wind gauge) and fried the main box of electronics. There is now a new anemometer mounted and we hope to get it up and running shortly.

OSC’s Weather Bug weather station located on the auditorium roof. A lightening strike in September pulverized the anemometer (wind gauge) and fried the main box of electronics. There is now a new anemometer mounted and we hope to get it up and running shortly.

Rainfall patterns in southern India and Sri Lanka have been unusual in the last twelve months with the recent floods in Chennai illustrating extreme events with devastating effects on human populations. Here in the suburbs of Sri Lanka’s capital city we have been monitoring weather patterns to see to what extent this year’s rainfall is different from past years. We have our own weather station courtesy of WeatherBug but it has been down for several months after a lightening strike damaged key components. In order to get a better sense of rainfall I visited the Sri Lanka Meteorological Department to learn more about what they do. After an informal tour of their forecasting center I was able to purchase uncertified rainfall and solar radiance data for all of their 23 main stations in the last 12 months. Certified data requires official requests that take time to organize-hence the use of uncertified data. To better understand this year’s trend with past patterns I compared the 2015 data to a data set of 1960-81 averages available at the Sri Lanka Department of Statistics. In this post I highlight the data from Colombo station over the last 12 months.

OSC’s DP 2 students are currently working on a short data analysis exercise of other stations around the country to further test the guising question: to what extent is the 2015 station monthly rainfall data different than the 1960-81 averages? In the initial assessment we can make is that the pattern is different than past years with relatively dry months receiving usually high levels of rain and months where monsoon rain expected being relatively deficient. We will review the data once the November and December data is available early in 2016.

What is significant about the 2015 data, as recorded by the Colombo station, is the relatively low rainfall levels at the beginning of the South Western monsoon (May-June) and the high readings in September. In fact, September has a value (631 mm) –more than twice the long term 1961-90 average (245 mm). I also accessed freely available Accuweather rainfall data online to check how it compares to the Meteorological Department data. As is evident in the graph below, there is a slight difference in the two readings over all months of the year, perhaps the result of the measurement stations being in two different locations. There is a significant degree of variability in rainfall even in the Colombo area (as is evident when you compare the Colombo station data to Ratmalana and Katunayaka stations). However, all stations show 2015 September reading to be abnormally high.

A year's worth of rainfall data derived from raw daily (un-verified) data purchased from the Sri Lanka Meteorology Department.

A year’s worth of rainfall data derived from raw, daily (un-certified) data purchased from the Sri Lanka Meteorology Department in November 2015.

Rainfall in Colombo. The 2015 data from the Meteorological Department and Acuweather is graphed against the 1961-90 data (sourced from the SL Department of Statistics). The yellow line is data for 2015 taken from Accuweather's Colombo station/source in 2015.

Rainfall in Colombo. The 2015 data from the Meteorological Department and Acuweather is graphed against the 1961-90 data (sourced from the SL Department of Statistics). The yellow line is data for 2015 taken from Accuweather’s Colombo station/source in 2015.

iPhone snapshots from the Sri Lanka Meteorological Department's head office in Colombo.

iPhone snapshots from the Sri Lanka Meteorological Department’s head office in Colombo.

Dramatic changes in rainfall patterns obviously encourage soul searching about potential causes. However, weather and climate patterns are notoriously complex with a variety of variables impacting the spatial and temporal weather conditions that different parts of the planet experience. El Niño, for example, is a major climatic issue at play in the South Asian monsoon this year. Several models that consider human-induced climate predict changes in monsoon and rainfall patterns in South and South East Asia (see links below). At the time of writing the world had focused it attention on the Paris United Nations Conference on Climate Conference. It will likely be some time before we fully understand the connections between Colombo’s 2015 rainfall patterns and broader global climate trends. Examining the raw data from the source has nevertheless given my students and me a unique perspective on the data and the bigger ideas that it might be connected to.

REFERENCES

Burt, T.P and K. D. N. Weerasinghe. “Rainfall Distributions in Sri Lanka in Time and Space: An Analysis Based on Daily Rainfall Data.” Climate. 2014. Web. 9 December 2015.

“Chilly weather at night for two weeks more: Former Met. Chief.” the Sunday Times. 15 February 2015. Web.

“Devastating monsoon flooding from Sri Lanka to northwest Australia.” NOAA. 23 January 2015. Web.

“Historical Rainfall Chennai Floods Southeast India. ” Earth Observatory. 9 December 2015. Web. 9 December 2015

“How El Niño plans to hijack monsoon 2015.” Resources Research Blog. 26 May 2015. Web. 18 November 2015.

Loo, Yen Yi. “Effect of climate change on seasonal monsoon in Asia and its impact on the variability of monsoon rainfall in Southeast Asia.” Geosciences Frontiers. Volume 6, Issue 6, November 2015. Web. 12 December 2015.

“More rains and hotter days ahead.” the Sunday Times. 24 May 2015. Web.

Piratheeparajah, N. “Spatial and Temporal Variations of Rainfall in the Northern Province of Sri Lanka.” Journal of Environment and Earth Science. Vol.5, No.15, 2015. Web. 12 December 2015.

Sathisraja, Anushiya. “Weather patterns have turned chaotic: Met. Dept. Chief.” the Sunday Times. 1 November 2015. Web.

Sri Lanka Department of Statistics. “Annual and Monthly rainfall observations 1961-90.” 2013. Web. 8 December 2015.

Wipulasena, Aanya and Anushiya Sathisraja.  “Climate change has come to stay, Earth getting warmer.” Sunday Times. 29 November 2015. Web & Print. 9 December 2015.

World Meteorological Organization. Web.

 

 

Written by ianlockwood

2015-12-13 at 1:03 pm

Solid Waste Reduction Initiatives: The City, the School and the Home

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Compost at three  stages in our garden. The Vernier Labquest shows the temperature of each bin.  The active bin and temperature is on the left with a temperature of 47.1 C.

Compost at three stages in our garden. The Vernier Labquest shows the temperature of each bin. The active bin and temperature is on the left with a temperature of 47.1 C showing healthy levels of metabolic activity.

One of my struggles as a human being living in a 21st Century industrial, consumer-driven society is how to better live up to the ideals that are imbedded in the concepts that are a part of the course content that I teach. The IBDP Environmental Systems & Societies course promotes ideas of sustainability (defined roughly as the extent to which natural income is utilized without affecting the natural capital of a system). IBDP Geography also looks at sustainability but spend time on populations, resources and the broad concept of carrying capacity. In the IBDP Creativity Action & Service (CAS) course outline the issue of “considering ethical implications” of one’s actions are highlighted in the eight IB learning outcomes. One contemporary environmental challenge that I have made efforts to address since my days as an undergraduate student is the issue of solid waste. I see our home as a virtual laboratory to test just how much we can cut back and reduce our family’s ecological footprint. In this post I’ll review the recycling and solid waste situation at three different scales here in Sri Lanka.

THE CITY

Colombo faces significant solid waste challenges as it experiences rapid growth in the post conflict years. The problem is not so much one of human numbers but of human lifestyles with per capita consumption and solid waste generation going up. Local newspapers (see References below) highlight problems with disposal, tension in communities stuck with city waste and controversial plans to incinerate waste. Approaches to recycling have changes during the last 10 years that we have been living in Colombo. In 2006-7 the Colombo Municipal Council set up several eco-kiosks for consumers to drop off recyclables at. It was a nice idea, but from my observations and interactions, the eco-kiosks had a mixed rate of success. Some discerning citizens used them regularly and deposited loads of cleaned recyclable materials. However others treated them as places to toss unsorted waste. Without proper supervision, the two eco-kiosks in our area (Talawathagoda and Battaramulla) became foul-smelling, cluttered sites that few people wanted to use. They were closed down two years ago. Most households now rely on a municipal neighborhood solid waste collection service that comes by with a tractor and trailer every week. Households are requested to sort their waste into two broad categories (organic and non-biodegradable items). The municipal workers sort the waste into organic and non-biodegradable sections (see image above). Their tools are basic and they endure unsavory working conditions. Unfortunately these hard working teams are unrecognized for the key role that they play in the city’s environment. The waste is carted off to one of several sites where it might be further sorted and then is basically left to rot, with some of it being burnt. It is this reality that has been the subject of concern amongst citizens and environmentalists in the city.

Haphazard solid waste disposal and burning behind a major grocery store chain in the Pelawatte/Thalawathgoda neighborhood. The practice of burning waste, which often includes significant amounts of plastic and other synthetic materials is widespread.

Haphazard solid waste disposal and burning behind a major grocery store chain in the Pelawatte/Thalawathgoda neighborhood. The practice of burning waste, which often includes significant amounts of plastic and other synthetic materials, is widespread.

For a variety of reasons there is a high prevalence of small-scale waste burning in Colombo’s residential neighborhoods. Traditionally people must have lit small fires of leaf litter and other collected waste that is swept up at the end of the day. In our area (that falls under the Battaramulla municipality) many neighbors continue to burn mixed waste. One neighbor suggested that the burning is timed to suppress mosquitos. The problem is that now household produce a good deal of waste that is synthetic and this gets thrown on to these same fires. There are few days that we don’t pass by a fire with burning plastic, PVC, styrofoam and any number of other items. This obviously has serious health consequences.

How domestic solid waste is collected from our home in Pelawatte, Sri Lanka.

How domestic solid waste is collected from our home in Pelawatte, Sri Lanka.

 THE SCHOOL

OSC with its 500 + students, teachers, administrators and support staff produces a significant amount of solid waste that is collected by the Battaramulla municipal council teams. There is some sorting at the cafeteria where wet waste is partially separated from all other kinds. The OSC Recycling and Sustainability (R&S) project has a mission to reduce the volume of solid waste and raise awareness about environmental and sustainability issues on campus. The group has a stated goal of reducing the school’s ecological footprint. Its weekly activity consists of collecting recyclables from classrooms and offices. The recyclables are sorted and the data is recorded with the idea of studying long-term trends to see if the efforts to reduce are having any impact. The group also works on projects with the canteen and administration to reduce waste at source and promote energy conservation. Over the years we have had several notable and energetic student leaders including Olivia Molden, Yi Suel Shin, Yulia Alex Mylvaganam, Satyanshu Sapra, Jennifer Anderson, Constance Klemplin, Yoon Jae Hwang, Nishant Matthews and several others. See the blog link here  and below to get a sense of what the group has done in the last five years (the blog was started in 2010-11). Environmental issues also figure in course content in all three IB programs. The Primary School is very good about raising awareness about issues and the Middle Years Program (MYP) does studies on energy and ecological footprints. In the Diploma Program the Geography class uses the issue of solid waste and recycling to run field studies and surveys. This is shared with the wider OSC community through the weekly newsletter and R&S blog.

OSC recycling in action (from the top): Students in the Thursday afternoon R&S service activity collect and sort paper, cardboard and other materials outside the recycling room near the gym. DP Geography students weigh and sell cardboard to our main scrap dealer buyer who will resell it for recycling in India. DP R&S student leaders Nisala, Nandini and Nishant work with younger students on a reflection at the end of the Thursday service session. Data about patterns in consumption and recycling is gathered and analyzed as a key part of this activity.

OSC recycling in action (from the top): Students in the Thursday afternoon R&S service activity collect and sort paper, cardboard and other materials outside the recycling room near the gym. DP Geography students weigh and sell cardboard to our main scrap dealer buyer who will resell it for recycling in India. DP R&S student leaders Nisala, Nandini and Nishant work with younger students on a reflection at the end of the Thursday service session. Data about patterns in consumption and recycling is gathered and analyzed as a key part of this activity.

THE HOME

It must have been was growing up in Bangladesh where I learnt that there is no such thing as garbage; only resources. Nothing went to waste in Dhaka, from empty beer cans, to office paper and even plastic bags: all had real economic value that was obvious to most consumers. The key to Dhaka’s successful recycling had little to do with any government planning or fancy development plans. Instead an army of informal workers, each with their own basket and weigh scales, competed to buy, collect and sell whatever they could. Houses in the wealthy neighborhoods of Gulshan and Baridhara were lucrative areas to trawl. High-income lifestyles, especially amongst the foreign community, were relatively wasteful and generated large volumes of perfectly useful materials that could be resold for a decent amount. Extreme poverty helped drive some of this recycling dynamism but the resilience and work ethic of the families collecting and sorting through the materials (often in hazardous conditions) played a key role. Their efforts helped to significantly reduce the need for landfill space, incinerators or other methods traditionally resorted to in industrial societies.

Three stages of compost at home. The bins are made by Arpico and also marketed/promoted by the CEA.

Three stages of compost at home. The bins are made by Arpico and also marketed/promoted by the Sri Lanka Central Environment Authority (CEA).

Living in Pune I was exposed to ideas of composting and vermiculture. Ever since, our family has successfully been able to completely manage all of our own wet organic waste. Here in Colombo we have three bins that have waste being cycled through them. Because of the warm, humid temperatures in Colombo we can recycle most organic waste through the system relatively quickly. It takes about 3 months between the time that a bin is started and then emptied out into the garden. The opening set of pictures shows the temperatures of the three bins. Temperatures are high (@40-41 C°) in the active bin where metabolic activity is high. Then, as the compost breaks down, the temperature drops back down to normal air temperature (26-32 C°) as different organisms works to break down the waste. I’ve learnt to mix an equal amount of leaf litter/grass cutting with food waste in the bins. Any meat waste is kept out and feeds neighborhood dogs and monitor lizards. The plastic of the Arpcio compost containers is hardy and keeps most rodents at bay. I regularly roll the bins on the ground to aerate the compost. I also add a little water to the non-active bins to keep them moist and conducive for decomposers.

This is a rough estimate and breakdown of our household waste in terms of composition and weight (see table below).

This is a rough estimate and breakdown of our household waste in terms of composition and weight (see table below).

Table of Data 2

In Colombo we generate, what I would assume is, an average amount of solid waste, but based on my research we put out far less garbage than other similar families. Unlike many other houses in the area, our waste (mostly plastic packaging) is not mixed with rotting food (a source of unsanitary conditions and an invitation for stray dogs that like to open bags of mixed waste). Through a combination of active recycling and composting I believe that our household has been able to make major solid waste reductions. At the school and certainly at the city level there is still a great deal more that needs to be done. The issue of dealing with solid waste in a scientific and ecological manner is quite straightforward, while the bigger challenges of the country developing into a resource-consuming society looms with uncertain consequences.

REFERENCES & FURTHER READING

Berenger, Leon. “Garbage Crisis growing by the day.” Sunday Times. 22 March 2009. Web. 23 March 2014.

Central Environmental Authority. Web. {this is the main Sri Lankan government body dealing with solid waste. See Waste Management Unit.}

Dissanayake, Chathuri. “Garbage collection waste deep in management and disposal.” Sunday Times. 15 September 2013. Web.

Ratnayake, Niranjanie. “Issues related to solid waste management in Sri Lanka.” The Daily News. 16 July 2012. Web. 23 March 2014.

Wipulasena, Aanya. “Waste rots, want lots.” Sunday Times. Web.

Written by ianlockwood

2015-03-24 at 1:23 am