A Marine Protected Area (MPA) is “any area of intertidal or subtidal terrain, together with its overlying water and associated flora, fauna, historical and cultural features, which has been reserved by law or other effective means to protect part or all of the enclosed environment” (IUCN,1994) (1).
Quote extracted from: Kelleher, G. (1999). Guidelines for Marine Protected Areas. IUCN, Gland, Switzerland and Cambridge, UK, originally stated in IUCN (1994). Guidelines for Protected Area Management Categories. IUCN, Cambridge, UK and Gland, Switzerland.

The Convention for Biological Diversity in its Aichi Target 11 states a target of protecting 10% of the ocean by 2020, which the UN’s SDG 14 also stresses. In 2016, the IUCN World Conservation Congress recommended a further 20% to be protected by 2030 (2). MPAs are important in helping an ecosystem increase resistance to change and they also make an ecosystem more resilient (3). Higher recovery rates from bleaching incidents have been recorded by corals found in MPAs, when compared to corals in unprotected areas (4). In MPAs with the highest level of protection (no-take marine reserves), have played an important role in restoring biodiversity of a marine area. Studies discovered that fish biomass can be up to 670% higher within no-when compared to adjoining unprotected zones and even 343% higher when compared to MPAs that are not as protected (5).

Although, globally around 7% of the ocean is said to be protected, a study conducted by Sala et al., in 2018, found that functional MPAs account for 3.6% of the ocean. The extent of MPAs that are fully protected (or strictly implemented) cover only 2% of the ocean. It was found that some countries have declared protected areas, however still continue to allow damaging activities within the area. The authors argue that if the MPA (although declared) is not actually protecting the biodiversity within, it should not be considered as a MPA (2).

Protected Areas of Sri Lanka

The Department of Wildlife Conservation (DWC) and the Forest Department declare protected areas and species by enacting the Fauna and Flora Protection Ordinance and the Forest Ordinance respectively.

Fauna and Flora Protection Ordinance

Under the Fauna and Flora Protection Ordinance, several forms of protected areas can exist on state land: Strict Natural Reserves, National Parks, Nature Reserves, Jungle Corridors, Marine National Parks and Buffer Zones. A Marine National Park is defined as an area which includes the sea as well as the adjacent coastal belt which predominantly consists of coral reefs, seagrass meadows and other similarly valuable ecosystems. Other lands (state, land that is not state, land not declares as National Reserves) can be declared as a Sanctuary or a Managed Elephant Reserve. Sanctuary is an area for human activity but will be subject to regulations of this act. A sanctuary holds the lowest form of protection when compared to other protection statuses.

Entry into a Strict Natural Reserve or Nature Reserve is not permitted whereas entry to a National Park or Marine National Park is permitted for observation purposes. The hunting, killing or removal of animals and the damaging, destroying or the collection of plant is not permitted in Strict Natural Reserves, or in Marine National Parks. In sanctuaries, the killing of wild animals or the removal of a bird or reptile’s eggs or nests is not permitted. However, traditional activities that were on-going at the time of declaration and as listed by the Minister, cannot be prohibited in National Parks, Nature Reserves, Jungle Corridors, Marine National Parks and Sanctuaries as per the above regulations.

The act prohibits development of any sort within a one-mile radius of the protected area’s outer boundary of any national reserve without the written approval of the Director General, DWC. The act also addresses pollution where the introduction of any harmful substance that can potentially enter and pollute land and water within a national reserve is prohibited.

The Ordinance (2009 Amendment) lists out species that are protected and not protected (Schedules I-VIII) and the degree to which such species are protected, including the repercussions if the law is broken.

Schedule I List of Mammals and Reptiles that are not protected
Schedule II Mammals and Reptiles Strictly Protected
Schedule III List of Birds not protected
Schedule IV Birds that are Strictly Protected
Schedule V List of Amphibians that are not protected
Schedule VI List of Fish that are Protected
Schedule VII List of Plants that are Protected
Schedule VIII List of Plants that are Protected

Forest Ordinance

The Forest Ordinance recognises three types of protected areas that can be declared on state land: Conservation, Reserved and Village Forests. Only non-extractive practices are permitted within Conservation Forests, which are the types of forests under the highest protection. Some resources are permitted a certain level of extraction (with approval) within Reserved Forests. Village Forests are used by one or more communities for extraction of pre-determined resources. Unlike Conservation and Reserved Forests, Village Forests do not have a strict boundary.

The National Biodiversity Strategic Action Plan 2016-2022 provides a summary of the protected areas of Sri Lanka, under both ordinances.

Protected Area Extent (ha) % of Sri Lanka % of total protected areas
Strict Natural Reserve 31,574 0.5 1
National Parks (Land) 685,979 10 30
National Parks (Marine) 19,563 0.3 1
Nature Reserve 65,485 1 3
Sanctuary 262,911 4 11
Jungle Corridor 8,777 0.1 0
Conservation Forests 134,307 2 6
Reserved Forests 1,092,700 17 47
Village Forests
Table adapted from National Biodiversity Strategic Action Plan 2016-2022. Data sourced from Department of Wildlife Conservation and Forest Department, page 53.


Currently, approximately 52,397 ha of marine area is protected in the country within Marine National Parks and Marine Sanctuaries. However, some marine areas are also included in other terrestrial protected areas. The table below, shared by the Department of Wildlife Conservation illustrates the protected areas, that include marine areas. Altogether, a total of 100,966.38 ha of marine area is protected.

Protected Area    Total Declared Area (ha) Marine Area (ha) Percentage of  Marine Area out  Total Declared Area Coastal Length within protected area (km) Percentage of total coastal length
1 Hikkaduwa Marine National Park 101.58 101.58 100% 4.8 0.36
2 Pigeon Island Marine National Park 471.43 471.43 100% 8.34 0.62
3 Adam’s Bridge Marine National Park 18,990.00 18,990.00 100%
4 Delft Island National Park (includes a 100m wide belt of near shore waters).  1,846.28 124.00 6.71% 6.71% 0.92
5 Ussangoda National Park (includes a 500m wide belt of near shore waters). 349.08 200.00 57% 4 0.30
6 Chundikulam National Park 19,565.33 8,606.30 43% 32.56 2.43
7 Nayaru Nature Reserve 4,464.35 1,157.00 25% 12.3 0.92
8 Nandikadal Nature Reserve 4,141.67 3,602.00 87% 0.3 0.02
9 Nagarkovil Nature Reserve 7,882.00 5,242.00 66% 5.6 0.42
10 Vidathalthive Nature Reserve 29,180.00 22,412.00 77% 32.8 2.45
11 Paraitive Sanctuary 97.10 97.10 100% 2.38 0.18
12 Great Sobar Island Sanctuary 64.70 64.70 100% 3.91 0.29
13 Little Sobar Island Sanctuary 6.47 6.47 100% 0.89 0.07
14 Rumasala Sanctuary 170.70 160.00 94% 5 0.37
15 Rocky Island Sanctuary 1.20 1.20 100% 0.63 0.05
16 Bar reef Sanctuary 30,670.00 30,670.00 100% 75 5.60
17 Vankalai Sanctuary 4,838.95 3,014.00 62% 14.8 1.10
18 Rekawa Sanctuary (includes a 500 m wide belt of near shore waters). 271.00 226.00 83% 4.52 0.34
19 Godawaya Sanctuary (includes a 500 m wide belt of near shore waters). 230.99 192.00 83% 3.85 0.29
20 Kokilai Sanctuary 1,995.00 1,995.00 100% 1.2 0.09
21 Seruwila-Allei Sanctuary 15,539.90 611.10 3.9% 15.8 1.18
22 Kudumbigala Panama  Sanctuary 6,533.91 337.59 5% 12.35 0.92
23 Nimalawa Sanctuary 1,065.80 36.40 3.4% 3.25 0.24
24 Kalametiya Sanctuary 2,525.20 337.59 13% 4.72 0.35
25 Yala National Park 241,868.47 251.62 0.1% 45.4 3.39
26 Kumana National Park 88,129.49 353.10 0.4% 15.4 1.15
27 Bundala National Park 9,137.98 1,706.20 18% 21.33 1.59
Total marine protected area: 100,966.38
Data shared by the Department of Wildlife Conservation (2018) with the Dugong and Seagrass Conservation Project – Sri Lanka.

Although legislation allows for the establishment of protected areas in Sri Lanka, lack of proper implementation and monitoring of the law is insufficient and ineffective (MMDE, 2016; Perera & de Vos, 2007; Miththapala, S, 2015; Ministry of Tourism Development and Christian Religious Affairs , 2016; Powell & Peiris, 2009; Broker & Ilanakoon, 2008; Dayaratne, et al., 1997; DSCP-Sri Lanka, 2018).

Lack of human resources and financial resources, lack of community involvement, overlapping of duties, and poor awareness amongst communities and other stakeholders have been identified as key challenges in the implementation of protected areas in Sri Lanka (6).


  1. Kelleher, G. Guidelines for Marine Protected Areas. Cambridge : IUCN, Gland, Switzerland, and Cambridge, UK, 1999. 2-8317-0505-3.
  2. Assessing real progress towards effective ocean protection. Sala, Enric, et al. s.l. : Marine Policy, 2018, Vol. 91.
  3. Gibbens, Sarah. National Geographic. [Online] June 16, 2018. [Cited: February 21, 2019.] https://news.nationalgeographic.com/2018/06/marine-protected-areas-ocean-conservation-environment/.
  4. Baselines and Degradation of Coral Reefs in the Northern Line Islands . A, Sandin S, et al. 2, s.l. : PLoS ONE, 2008, Vol. 3.
  5. No-take marine reserves are the most effective protected ares in the ocean. Sala, Enric. 3, s.l. : ICES Journal of Marine Science, 2018, Vol. 75.
  6. IUCN. Review and Gap Analysis on Policies, Regulations and their Implementation for the Protection of Dugongs and Seagrass Meadows. Colombo : Unpublished, 2018.
  7. Ministry of Mahaweli Development and Environment . National Biodiversity Strategic Action Plan 2016-2022. Colombo : Ministry of Mahaweli Development and Environment , 2016. 978-956-8396-05-09.
  8. Marine Protected Areas in Sri Lanka: A Review. Perera, N and de Vos, A. 2007, Environment Management, Vol. 40, pp. 727-738.
  9. Conservation Revisited. Miththapala, S. 2, 2015, Ceylon Journal of Science, Vol. 44, pp. 1-26.