2021 Jun 10
As an island replete with aquatic wonders, it comes as no surprise that Sri Lanka is now home to three underwater museums. These three museums were created under the purview of the Sri Lanka Navy, driven by both economic and environmental motives. With tourism being a fundamental facet of the economy, the opening of these underwater museums has become a star attraction for foreigners and locals alike. These galleries are situated across three primary maritime locations; Galle, Trincomalee and Matara, and they have been vital in propelling coral growth and natural fish breeding through the creation of artificial reefs.
The Underwater Museum Galle opened on the 5th of April, 2020, close to the Galle Harbour. As a well-established tourist hotspot, attracting viewers and enthusiastic adventurers was not a tedious task. Underwater museums in Sri Lanka have become a great opportunity for maritime-based tourism development, guaranteeing a memorable escapade that goes beyond the conventional city museum experience many of us are used to.
The Underwater Museum Galle has become a flourishing breeding ground for many aquatic creatures and is a testament to the success and hard work executed by the Sri Lanka Navy. As a result, two other underwater galleries have also debuted to the public. The second underwater museum was constructed off the Sandy Bay beach in Trincomalee and was declared open on the 10th of July, 2020, by Navy Vice Admiral Piyal De Silva. Set at a depth of around 18 metres, this gallery allows avid marine explorers to sightsee during the South-East monsoon season – and they can visit the Galle museum during the North-East monsoon period. Thus, tourists have the opportunity to indulge in at least one of these aquatic sites throughout the year.
As an extension of this project, another gallery was opened by the Sri Lanka Navy in Matara on the 10th of April this year (2021). The Blue Beach Island Underwater Gallery located on Nilwella beach reflects a 100m long and 40m wide model town. This site can be viewed via snorkelling or dinghies with glass bottoms for a mesmerising glance beneath the surface.
For those that seek to explore these artefacts and monuments from a much closer standpoint, diving would be the most ideal method. However, you need to hold a valid PADI (Professional Association of Diving Instructors) open water license and be trained by a recognised diving school before attempting to take the plunge underwater. Although entrance to all three museums is free, you would have to bear the cost of learning to dive, via certified and professional diving centres.
Navy Vice Admiral Piyal De Silva expresses that tourism, regeneration of corals and fish breeding remain at the core of this project. After only a few months since their launch, the museums have fostered results in terms of fish breeding, proving that in the months and years to come, these three galleries will be a vital component in creating a flourishing ecosystem within the area.
He goes on to note how these museums serve as tourist attractions, creating potential for surrounding hotels and resorts, while being fruitful environments for fishing, thus increasing the economic standards of the coastal villages. An abundance of fish allows fishermen to increase their fishing trade with a boost of fish stocks around the island.
Coordinator of The Pearl Protectors, Muditha Katuwawala expresses that there are two sides to this initiative. Whilst these underwater galleries are ideal in providing shelter to marine life and also pose as unique tourist attractions where people can freely roam, there is an alternative much more sensitive aspect to this endeavour. Factors such as underwater ocean current and careful use of materials must be taken into consideration.
Katuwawala further explains that it is too early to determine the impacts that this project has on the ecosystem and marine life in those areas. It would generally take around 10 to 12 years before any clear cut consensus can be reached. Even so, constant maintenance is required so as not to defeat the entire purpose of this project.
All three underwater galleries contain sculptures, structures and other artifacts moulded entirely out of eco-friendly materials, discarded automobile parts, concrete and certain artificial substrates which induce coral growth. The launch of these underwater museums marks a pivotal point for Sri Lanka’s tourism sector as well as marine conservation, making it a stepping stone towards promoting tourism in a sustainable and eco-friendly manner.