Being surrounded by water is perhaps a great way to live and Sri Lanka is blessed with rich marine ecosystems along its coastline. But it isn’t only the deep blue ocean we celebrate as islanders, it is also the many semi-saline or brackish bodies of water such as lagoons, bays, coves and even a few so-called fjords that dot certain landscapes.
Often shallow and separated from the sea by reefs, lagoons are melting pots of aquatic life – they’re home to mangroves, and plenty of prawns, crabs and fish. The largest number of lagoons, each with its unique offering, crisscross the island’s northwestern littoral from Negombo to Kalpitiya.
One of Sri Lanka’s most notable coastal features is the Negombo Lagoon, which is lined with mangrove swamps and filled with seabirds, thanks to an abundance of fish and shrimp. You will also come across the coral reef around Duwa, which is known for its wealth of marine life. Get in the water and indulge in a spot of snorkelling to gaze at the beauty of marine life under the surface.
Widely touted as Sri Lanka’s seafood capital, you’ll find the freshest fish in Negombo. Visit the famous Lellama fish market, which opens before dawn and operates for a few hours after sunrise. At this mecca of seafood, you will find world-class yellowfin tuna, large crabs, plump prawns, fresh cuttlefish and a variety of fish.
Following the opening of the airport expressway, Negombo has grown in stature as a red-hot tourist destination thanks to enclaves such as Lewis Place (a.k.a. Beach Road). You’ll find exciting restaurants, pubs and bars in this part of town that serve up great grub – including Sri Lankan, British, American, Japanese, Chinese and Italian cuisine.
As you travel north, the Pambala-Chilaw Lagoon beckons. Fed by the Deduru and Lunu Oyas, the waters are brackish and provide the perfect environment for prawn farms. Surrounded by mangroves, this lagoon complex is also a habitat for small fish and the waterbirds that feed on them.
Further north lies the Mundal Lagoon, which is one of the saltiest lagoons in the island. Quite shallow and separated from the ocean by a permanent sand bar at Udappuwa, this water body is also known as the Mundal Lake. Linked to this by a channel lies the Puttalam Lagoon with its extensive mangroves, seagrass and marshes.
The emerging tourist township of Kalpitiya is situated at the northern edge of the Puttalam Lagoon. The Kalpitiya Lagoon and surrounding areas have been positioned as Sri Lanka’s kitesurfing haven and attract thrill seekers from around the world.
Kalpitiya is also a thriving marine sanctuary for dolphins – they can be spotted in their hundreds and are ever ready to put on a show for visitors. Venture a little further north to cite those magnificent sperm whales, which move in pods in search of giant squid. And if you’re lucky, you might even spot a few blue whales and orcas, which have taken a liking to the warm waters off the coast of Sri Lanka.
Off the coast of Kalpitiya lies Bar Reef – Sri Lanka’s largest and most beautiful coral reef. It is pristine, clear and full of colour. This marine national park is home to angelfish, damselfish, butterflyfish, blacktip shark and myriad other sea animals. These waters are also home to the critically endangered dugong. Gentle, slow and elusive, these flat tailed sirenians love to graze in the sea meadows and are rarely spotted.
Whether you hover over them in a boat, wade through them, dive into them or simply enjoy the view while enjoying fresh seafood, exploring Sri Lanka’s lagoons is well worth the time and money.
Compiled by Ruwandi Perera