Sri Lanka wildlife | Muthurajawela Wetlands

Muthurajawela Wetlands

The Muthurajawela Marshes are situated just south of Negombo and covers an area of approximately 6,000 hectares inclusive of the Negombo lagoon. The daily high tide brings in seawater from the ocean into the wetland. Continuous mixing of these two waters over thousands of years, has led to a brackish, integrated coastal ecosystem that is biologically diverse and teeming with life. A variety of mangroves and other types of flora including medicinal plants are found alongside numerous types of birds, butterflies and fish, some of which are endemic. Crocodiles, monitor lizards, and Sri Lanka’s largest snake, the Python, are also native.
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Stats in Brief

Stratification: Mangrove, Lagoon & Salt Marsh

Size: 6,232ha

Status: Ramser Wetland - Wetland Sanctuary

Altitude: 0m to 10m

Temperature: Mean annual temperature is 27 (degree c)

Annual Rainfall: Average annual rain fall 2000-2500mm

Best time of year to visit: All year round; September to April migrant birds can be observed in numbers

Optimum duration of stay:
Half a day or full day visit

Accommodation Options: All hotels in Negombo & Colombo

Highlights: Water birds, migrating waders, many species of Butterflies and specially good for Dragonflies and Mangrove forest

Muthurajawela is the largest saline coastal peat bog in Sri Lanka, located on the west coast between Negombo Lagoon and Kelani River and spreading inland up to Ragama and Paliyagoda in the Gampaha district. The Marsh together with the Negombo Lagoon form an integrated coastal wetland eco-system. This marsh lagoon complex is estimated to have originated about 5000 year BC. The annual rainfall here is about 2000-2500m, while the average annual temperature is 27c. The northern section of the marsh covering an area of 1,777ha was declared a sanctuary in July 1996 under the fauna & flora protection ordinance.

Flora & fauna of Muthurajawela
Muthurajawela harbours over 194 species of Flora distributed over seven major vegetation types which includes marsh, lactic flora, shrub land, reed, swamp, grasslands, stream bank and mangrove forest. A total of 194 species of vegetation belonging to 66 families have been recorded which include one endemic species (Phoenix zelanica). Among the different types of vegetation, the shrub land consists of 115 species with the mangrove forest and stream bank consisting of just 23 species each. Due to the high level of human activity within the sanctuary, the flora composition at Muthurajawela seems to be changing rapidly.

The vertebrate fauna includes 40 species of fish, 14 species of reptiles, 102 species of birds and 22 species of mammals. Among the total vertebrate species documented 17 are endemic while 26 are nationally endangered. Among the invertebrates documented 48 species are butterflies and 22 species are dragonflies.

Fish, Amphibians & Reptiles
Being a wetland habitat, the fish found in Muthurajawela offer an insight into the ‘health’ of the wetland. 40 species of fish have been recorded which is 45% of Sri Lanka’s native inland fish species and includes 5 endemics, 5 nationally endangered, and 4 exotic species. The Thilapia (Sarotherodon mossambicus), Pearl Spot (Etroplus surantensis) and the Dwarf Panchax (Aplocheilus parvus) are among the very common species found at Muthurajawela. The fish species also include freshwater and marine migratory species that migrate from fresh to marine habitats for reproduction. These species include the Level-finned Eel and the Marine species Red Snapper, Big-eye Trevally, Common Glass fish, Tarpon and Silver Bleddy that move into the brackish water for spawning.

The Amphibians consists of 14 species including 4 endemics, 5 nationally endangered and represents 26% of the total amphibian species on the island. The Common Toad and the Six-toed Green Frog are the most common species found here. The Reptiles consist of 31 species covering 20% of the island’s reptilian fauna. 6 endemic species are found here and 9 are nationally endangered. The Commonest species of reptiles are the Water Monitor, Common Garden Lizard and two species of Geckos. The Start Tortoise is also found here which is not regular as it is known to be a dry zone species. A breeding population of the endangered Eurasian Crocodile being the largest reptile in Muthurajawela is also found in the northern area. Other reptiles found are the Indian Python, Spectacle Cobra and Russell’s Viper.

The Mammals of Muthurajawela consist of 22 species including one endemic representing 25% of the island’s mammal species. Among them 4 species are nationally endangered. The Murids, Rats & Mice, are the most common types and the globally threatened Grey Slender Loris is extremely rare in Muthurajawela. The Fishing Cat is also found here.

Birds are the dominant group of vertebrates in Muthurajawela. It consists of 102 species including one endemic. These represent approximately 37% of Sri Lanka’s native avifauna species. Of the total species 19 migrants have been recorded. The mixture of vegetation types and aquatic habitats in Muthurajawela has made it an ideal eco-zone for a variety of birds. In the wetland eco-system Herons, Egrets, Cormorants, Teal, Waders and Kingfishers are found here. This is also a very important breeding habitat of many aquatic birds. Some of the wetland birds include Little and Indian Cormorant, Cattle, Little, Intermediate & Large Egrets, Purple Heron, Indian Pond Heron, Little Green Heron, Black-crowned Night Heron, Black Bittern, Yellow Bittern, Chestnut Bittern, Black-headed Ibis, Asian Open-bill, Little Grebe, Lesser Whistling Teal, Pheasant-tailed Jacana, White-breasted Water hen, Purple Swamp hen, Water Cock and Common Moorhen.

Some of the migrants and waders include Whimbrel, Eurasian Curlew, Common Sandpiper, Curlew Sandpiper, Marsh Sandpiper, Pintail Snip, Gull-billed Tern, Whiskered Tern, Little Tern and Lesser Crested Tern. Resident waders include the Red-wattled Lapwing, Greater Painted Snip and the Eurasian Thick-nee. Among the Kingfishers, White-throated, Stork-billed, Common and Pied Kingfishers are regularly seen here. The Black-capped Kingfisher, a rare winter migrant, has been recorded here.

Birds of prey include the Shikra, Brahaminy Kite, White-bellied Sea-eagle and the migrant Western Marsh Harrier and Palled Harrier have been recorded. Many forest birds also can be seen in Muthurajawela. The migrants include Indian Pitta, Blue-tailed Bee-eater, Asian Paradise Flycatcher, Asian Brown Flycatcher, Greenish Warbler, Brown Shirke, Forest and Grey Wagtail. Resident forest birds include are Spotted Doves, Sri Lanka Green Pigeon, Blue-faced Malkoha, Pied Cuckoo, Rose-ringed Parakeet, Alexandrian Parakeet, Little Minivet, Plain Prinia, White-rumped and Scaly-bellied Munia, White-bellied Drongo, Red-vented Bulbul, Common Iora, Jungle and House Crows are very common and seem to be the dominate species.

Butterflies & Dragonflies
The Butterflies recorded include 48 species and these represent 20% of the total butterfly species in Sri Lanka. None of them endemic but 6 species are nationally endangered. Among the common butterflies are the Blue Glassy Tiger, Glassy Tiger and the Tailed Jay. The Odonata (Dragonflies and Damselflies) consist of 22 species representing approximately 19% of the total Odonata species found in Sri Lanka. Among them are 2 endemics and 2 nationally endangered species.

Accommodation Options

The Wallawwa, Kotugada:  The Wallawwa is just 10 minutes from the Muthurajawela wetlands.   Nestled amongst acres of beautifully manicured gardens, this colonial manor house, or Wallawwa, is Sri Lanka’s most exciting new boutique hotel. This old and new concept provides guests with unrivalled setting and style just 15 minutes from the airport and 30 minutes from the hustle and bustle of Colombo. 14 bedrooms, Asian fusion cuisine, Z spa and the W’s swimming pool; all set amongst one of the finest private gardens in Sri Lanka. (More)

Ranweli Holiday Village, Waikal:  An eco-friendly resort situated on a coastal wetland about ten miles north of the beach resort of Negombo.  This secluded holiday resort is reached via a short paddle-ferry that glides you to a peninsular surrounded by two rivers, a lagoon and the Indian Ocean - an ideal retreat for nature lovers. Ranweli's ecological commitment has been officially recognised by the World Tourist Organisation. (More)

Brown’s Beach, Negombo:  A mid-range beach hotel, Brown’s Beach is perched on the best stretch of private beach in the heart of Negombo.  Browns Beach Hotel offers 135 rooms. 25 of these rooms - called the Beach Rooms - were completely refurbished in 2006.  Red Dot recommends the Beach Rooms with direct access to the beach. (More)

The Beach, Negombo:  Negombo’s first 5-star, the Beach is a chic and stylish hotel offering great luxury and a warm and attentive level of service.  The hotel is tastefully designed along contemporary lines, taking the surrounding seaside landscape into full view. Open verandahs, walkways and waterways welcome the cooling ocean breeze and the tropical sun. (More)

Ice Bear, Negombo:  An endearing guesthouse situated in Negombo, the Ice Bear is welcoming, artistic, and ever so eccentric. The imaginative budget traveler will love its sense of difference and little antique flourishes.(More)

The Muthurajawela Marsh is located just off the Negombo lagoon to the south of the town. The Muthurajawela Visitor Centre, which is the entry point to the wetlands, is accessed via the Munnakare Bridge pass the old Negombo Rest House, through Pitipana till you reach Pamanugama. The journey from Colombo to Negombo is about 1.5 hours. Further information can be obtained from the Muthurajawela Visitor centre, Indigaslanda, Bopitiya Pamanugama. Tel: 074 830150.

Useful Links
Lanka library: Click Here

International Water Management Institute (IWMI): Click Here 

Media Reviews
'Negombo Tour'
by Preethi Burkholder, Travel Sri Lanka, Vol 4 No. 2

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