Conserving marine life at the Bar Reef Marine Sanctuary

Published: 29 September 2021
Last edited: 29 September 2021
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Bar Reef Marine Sanctuary (BRMS) is an offshore continental shelf-patch reef in Sri Lanka that has been bleached. 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” were declared in 2018.

The main objective of this practice is to sustainably manage and protect BRMS by avoiding significant adverse impacts due to anthropogenic activities via strengthening resilience in sustaining green livelihoods, strengthening capacity in the community in natural resources management, and taking restorative action towards healthy and productive oceans. With the engagement of stakeholders, restoration of BRMS is in progress.


South Asia
Scale of implementation
Coral reef
Deep sea
Marine and coastal ecosystems
Open sea
Seamount / Ocean ridge
Access and benefit sharing
Biodiversity mainstreaming
Ecosystem services
Fisheries and aquaculture
Habitat fragmentation and degradation
Local actors
Marine litter
Protected and conserved areas management planning
Sustainable livelihoods
Traditional knowledge
Loss of Biodiversity
Ocean warming and acidification
Ecosystem loss
Pollution (incl. eutrophication and litter)
Unsustainable harvesting incl. Overfishing
Lack of access to long-term funding
Lack of alternative income opportunities
Lack of technical capacity
Lack of public and decision maker’s awareness
Lack of infrastructure
Sustainable development goals
SDG 14 – Life below water
SDG 17 – Partnerships for the goals
Aichi targets
Target 1: Awareness of biodiversity increased
Target 5: Habitat loss halved or reduced
Target 10: Ecosystems vulnerable to climate change
Target 11: Protected and conserved areas
Target 15: Ecosystem restoration and resilience
Target 17: Biodiversity strategies and action plans
Business engagement approach
Direct engagement with associations


Kalpitiya, Puttalam, Sri Lanka
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  • 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.
  • Due to institutional and operational gaps in the beginning, there were extractive uses and excessive artisanal resource extraction despite legal status of BRMS.These gaps have surfaced due to lack of resources and coordination of the DWC, absence of established legal boundaries and multiple access points.

  • Community were involved in illegal destructive fishing techniques due to instability of income, absence of grievance redress and weak legal enforcement.

  • Limited financial and human resources in relation to expertise in designing buoys, redeploying buoys, monitoring coral recruits, recording progress etc. 
  • Challenges in designing the buoys. Knowledge regarding sea depth and design structure for buoys were unclear in the begininning, which led to replacement of buoys.


400 Community members in Kudawa, Kandakuliya in Kalpitiya (Fishermen, school children & tourist service providers)

How do the building blocks interact?

The 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 & Sri Lanka Navy at an event of imminent threat to restoration site were established. As the active members of District Facilitation Committee, Navy provided their boats and crew to transfer buoys and engaged in monitoring protocols by giving coverage by their speed patrolling boats.


While restoration activities were under placed, Ministry of Environment is implementing national level advocacy on this initiative to raise awareness among stakeholders.


Observable restoration of the BRMS ecosystem: significant level of natural coral recruitment from migratory planktonic larvae occurring on many areas of the reef; the recruitment can be observed in 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 the slowly restoring ecosystem. Participatory establishment of a buoy demarcated set aside zone for the restoration of BRMS during the next five years is foreseen.

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 are 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.

Contributed by

dinithi.subasinghe_40486's picture

Dinithi Subasinghe United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)