Creating livelihoods on the beaches of Sri Lanka

23 Jun 2009

Sunil has an enviable job. He spends his days on the beach in Koskoda, a coastal village near Colombo. He earns his living by patrolling the beach to make sure turtle nests are safe.

In the past, he patrolled the beach as a poacher. He stole turtle eggs and sold them to make some quick cash.

Now Sunil feels better about his new job. He says the business is not very profitable – he makes 8,000-10,000 Rp per month - but at least, it represents a steady revenue. Sunil did not know the turtles were endangered. Now, when he finds an egg, he gives it to a nearby hatchery.

Sunil is part of a new breed of conservationists employed by UNDP-GEF’s turtle conservation project. The project began when conservationists realized the harm the poachers were doing. UNDP and GEF have provided the financial means to turn poachers into conservationists.

The head of the project, Thushan Kapurusinghe, is proud of its success. “Turtles are free, after 2 months of incubation, the eggs go straight to the sea,” he says.

The project isn’t just protecting turtles. Former poachers are enjoying new and alternative means of livelihood like batik work, sowing and exotic fish breeding.  The project helps them to sell their products in the capital.

Sumanavathi’s husband used to be a poacher but when he fell ill, he couldn’t support his family any longer. Sumanavathi had been sowing since she was 10 years old but she lost her sowing machine in the 2004 Tsunami. Since then, she received a new machine thanks to the project. She is now able to support her family by producing school uniforms and sari blouses.