The Dutch Bay consists of several scattered islands. Once used as a port, the Bay slowly fell into disuse during colonial times. The residents shifted to trade, and many moved inland. However, several continued to live there, some of whom continued to fish in the waters, fisheries activist and member of the Puttalam District Solidarity movement J Pathmanathan told us.
That changed when in 2005, former Tourism Minister Anura Bandaranaike gazetted a new tourism development project, encompassing 14 islands in the Dutch Bay. The area would be transformed into a hotel and recreational area.
Map courtesy the Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority
No mention was made of the families still living on the island – nor of any alternate lands where they could live. In any case, most of the families, who had lived there for generations, had no intention of moving, despite their many difficulties. Yet their access to the sea was abruptly cut off in 2011 and 2012. Later on, fishermen appealing for help were told to 'produce deeds for assistance' A NAFSO report compiled in 2013 highlighted the plight of these people.
“We have been living in this isle for generations and we are not prepared to give up our rights even if we were given money in exchange of lands.” Sampath Pushpakumara, Mutwal isle
“Our people have been living in this isle from the time of our great grandfathers. We also have born and bred in Uchchimune isle and our livelihood is based here. Everybody in our village belong to one religion. We have no social disputes. We have been living free in this fishery life. The lagoon and sea are our resources our cottages by the lagoon and ocean have made it easier for us to carry out fishing. Although we don’t have much comfort here we are living free.” Anton Suresh, Anthony Shelton, Madhurani Almeida, EviginThuram, Uchchimune isle
Many of the families did not have deeds to prove ownership, apart from the fact that they had been living there for years. Local government officials visited these families and cajoled them into selling off the land, piece by piece. With access to their fishing grounds barred, and living in extreme financial difficulty, most of them took what was offered. Construction on the Dutch Bay project continues, although the area is as yet only accessible by tractor and boat.
Near the Seguwantiwe and Vidatamuni Windpower plant, an area of the Kappalady lagoon has been identified as ideal for kitesurfing. Companies have moved here, offering courses. Often, during season, you will find tourists coasting the shores of the lagoon, used mostly for beginners.