Muthurajawela marshes and Negombo lagoon form one large wetland of 7,000 ha between Colombo and Negombo. Some 2,000 ha of this wetland will be conserved in its present state, mainly because of its rich plant and animal life and flood detention. Some 40% of the vertebrate species of Sri Lanka are recorded here, many of which are endemic (existing only in Sri Lanka), rare, or threatened. Famous mammals are the fruit bat, the slender lords, the otter, the fishing cat, and the mouse deer. Birds are numerous; commonly sighted species include cormorants, storks, bee-eaters, and kingfishers. Of the reptiles the brackish water crocodile is occasionally seen, whereas the large monitor lizards and many species of serpents are common.
Plant life is also rich. ‘The marsh vegetation includes mangroves, ferns, and many grasses and sedges. The famous “godakaduru” tree, providing the wood for Sri Lanka’s masks, is still fairly common.
In wet areas the beautiful lotus flowers abound, together with the ‘kankun’ vegetable. All this beauty can be conserved… with public co-operation. The Muthurajawela Visitor Centre has been established to raise funds for conservation management activities, without which the area would soon be urbanized.
A main attraction of the Muthurajawela Visitor Centre is a guided boat trip that shows a variety of landscapes and ecosystems. Starting at the Old Dutch Canal (constructed in the 16th century) with its many aquatic plant and fish species, it brings you to the Dandugam Oya, a picturesque river with various fishing activities along the banks. The river suddenly opens into the Negombo Lagoon, where again bird life and fisheries activities are seen. From there, the trip proceeds through the marsh proper through ever narrowing waterways and between ever more impressive vegetation. You will certainly come across cormorants and herons, and if you are lucky (and silent) many interesting animals.
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