United NationsDepartment of Economic and Social Affairs Sustainable Development

“Working together to bring back the life to Bar Reef Marine Sanctuary”

United Nations Development Programme (

    Bar Reef Marine Sanctuary is an offshore continental shelf-patch reef in Sri Lanka that has been bleached and slowly recovered. The area flourished with tourism-related businesses and the dependency of local livelihoods on the coastal ecosystem grew. The 2016 La -Nina/El-Nino reduced the live coral cover to less than 1% and the coral was turning to rubble. To allow the reef to recover its biodiversity, natural functions & to ensure the sustainability of their livelihoods, the community demarcated core areas & “A-Zone Left Aside for Restoration” was declared in 2018. The community was trained to maintain buoys, monitoring the progress of the coral recruits and recovery and the redeployment of buoys post off-seasons.

    Implementation of the Project/Activity

    o Planning & Execution The Environmentally Sensitive Areas Project facilitated a close dialogue via a common platform among stakeholders to encourage their active engagement in a participatory planning process. Partnerships between UNDP and the relevant ministries, local NGOs, sector experts, community, & universities facilitated national, regional and local level dialogues in the design and implementation of the project. Selected community members were trained on monitoring coral health, buoy deployment, coral recruiting and reporting protocols among Dept. of Wildlife Conservation, Coast Guard & Navy at an event of imminent threat to restoration site were established. As the active members of District Facilitation Committee, NSL provided their boats and crew to transfer buoys and engaged in monitoring protocols by giving coverage by their speed patrolling boats. DWC: Technical expertise of human resources, storage facilities for buoys during off-season ORCA: Technical expertise of human resources Sri Lanka Navy: Boats & continuous Patrolling service , substrates for coral recruitment Coastal Conservation Department: Training Center for all meetings & Trainings District & Divisional Secretariat: Active engagement for governance and mobilization Ministry of Environment: National level advocacy UNDP: Technical expertise, coordination, GEF funding, quality assurance, monitoring equipment Community: Human resources, labour, contribution via boats by tour boat society, time for buoy deployment twice a year, Diving and taking readings, photographs , Monitoring Mechanisms Identified team of locals to assists in monitoring of the site and in maintenance of buoys. A protocol was established to inform the DWC- Regional office and the Navy in an emergency and regular updates a deployed via WhatsApp group. National level and district level monitoring as per Bar Reef Management Plan is operational.


    Observable restoration of the BRMS ecosystem: Significant level of natural coral recruitment is observable with many species with a prevalence of Acroporid recruits seen far more frequently. The new recruits seen are mostly very young with not more than 10-15 polyps. Concrete structures provide artificial substrate midst of rubble giving way for new coral recruits Slowly emerging new coral recruits and fish aggregation on the reef is evidence of slowly restoring ecosystem. Participatory establishment of a buoy demarcated set aside zone for the restoration of BRMS during the next five years. Increased & continued active community engagement in ecosystem conservation: active, voluntary engagement in buoy redeployment after off-season, periodic progress monitoring and recording of the changes of the reef. Increase community awareness: communities are aware of natural heatwaves, actively work against anthropogenic activities that adversely affect the ecosystem. Sustainable ecosystem services-based and diversified livelihoods: 400 families involved in reef-related tourism work, the women of the families have diversified their income through handcrafts, homestays, food processing etc to reduce the dependence on the reef and increased participation of women within the tourism industry as snorkelers & etc. This pilot study advocated for Policy changes and was instrumental in developing Environmentally Sensitive Areas Policy.

    Enabling factors and constraints

    Enabling conditions were the participatory approach to project design & implementation and the mobilization of national, regional & local level champions that in turn mobilized stakeholders at every level and created an actively engaging community via awareness & capacity development. Partnerships with stakeholders at every level & GEF-funding channeled through UNDP catalyzed implementation. Underwater camera, Oxygen cylinders, snorkels, diving equipment for community divers were provided through GEF funding while other partnerships facilitated expertise in designing buoys, marine biologists to introduce new coral recruits, substrate; buoys, anchors, chains, service of motorboats and human resources to deploy, redeploy buoys, monitor coral recruits, record the progress etc. The effects of COVID19 on the income of the community affected the community resilience and morale which resulted in illegal & unsustainable fishing practices in the vicinity despite the vigilance of all parties.

    Sustainability and replicability

    Developing the capacities of an established professional association that’s directly dependent on the eco-system (i.e. Tour Boat Association) and linking them with the local/field level governance teams (Wildlife Conservation Officials) that monitor the eco-system proved to be successful in promoting community ownership of conservation action, establishing eco-system services to create sustainable livelihoods for said association and thus creating an actively engaged community that sustainably benefits from and therefore conserve the eco-system. This trained team is linked with other donor funded programmes as an exit strategy to support their efforts. A case study on this practice was presented at Marine Environment Protection Authority Annual Symposium to advocate the decision makers of the sector to adopt and scaleup while the scaling up of Environmentally Sensitive Areas too is proposed as a national policy.

    COVID-19 Impact

    The preliminary studies show the tourism industry has been heavily impacted and a reduction in booking demand of local and international tourists is visible from March 2020 up to now, compared to 2019. The community members who had tourism-related faced a huge economic shock. However, during COVID19 lockdown in April 2020, the community came forward, on a voluntary basis and mobilized to remove buoys for safekeeping before monsoonal rains and the offseason. Capacity development and building community ownership of the conservation of the eco-system and the diversification of household income supported the continuation of the intervention even without boots on the ground and proved to be an effective mitigation measure to build back better.

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    This initiative does not yet fulfil the SMART criteria.
    01 May 2017 (start date)
    31 August 2021 (date of completion)
    Department of Wildlife Conservation
    Other beneficiaries

    400 Community members in Kudawa, Kandakuliya in Kalpitiya (Fishermen, school children & tourist service providers), Department of Wildlife Conservation, Divisional Secretariat & District Secretariats, Ministry of Environment, UNDP, Ocean Resources Conservation Association, University of Wayamba, IUCN, Navy Sri Lanka, Coastal Conservation Department, National Aquatic Resources Research and Development Agency.

    More information
    Sri Lanka
    Sri Lanka
    Contact Information

    Sugandhi, “Working together to bring back the life to Bar Reef Marine Sanctuary”