A community based initiative in Sri Lanka to keep our natural environment clean

Thalangama Wetland Watch

Patrons of the lake


In this section of the website, we like to feature some of the people who serve or served the lake and its community with sincerity and passion. This is an open-ended section and we are happy to consider many more nominations.

Udayani Panagoda and Malawige Piyasiri Perera
Everyone knows the small green ‘hopper’ shop at the lake, opposite the boats house. The shop, which offers also curd, different vegetables, and in the morning a fresh Kola Kenda drink is run since 16 years by Udayani and Piyasiri. Siri lives since his birth at the lake and works since more than 30 years at the Ministry of Education. He is also farming some paddy fields while he gets the curd from his brother Pala who owns most cows and water buffaloes in the area.

Hema de Silva
In July 2020, Hema de Silva (Hamish), owner of Villa Talangama, and co-coordinator of our Wetland Watch passed away. Hamish was not only strongly lobbying for our work but also challenging all types of administrations to keep our lake environment in a pristine state, fighting in particular visual pollution from unauthorized signboards, and helping to confront identified polluters. Hamish will be missed tremendously. Our thoughts are with Nirmalie and their relatives, as well as his protégé Kasun.

Kolluragne Don Nihal Padmalal
Nihal Padmalal is the president of the paddy farmer association downstream of the Thalangama lake, member of different projects and a well respected spokesperson of the lake, representing farmers’ perspectives. He is also concerned about the local community and lake development in general, offering help where possible, and taking care that laws and regulations are being followed. Nihal retired in 2013 from his position at the Ceylon Tobacco Company where he was working for 35 years, as Quality Examiner and later Senior Quality Analyst managing optical and laboratory analysis.

Photo source:
Sunday Times

E. Percy Perera
According to a report in The Island, Percy Perera is considered by some stakeholders as the unofficial guardian of the Thalangama tank and some of the bordering paddy fields. As a member of the paddy farmer association, Percy has been instrumental in keeping the area under close observation as an environmental protection area, but also to guide or fight the authorities whenever tank or paddy fields are in jeopardy. His engagement brought him media attention in 2004 (Sunday Island) and 2012 (Sunday Times). Percy was also very vocal in the 2015 community consultations leading to the 2017 tank dredging. He challenged the numbers provided on the lake capacity, saw higher dredging needs, demanded a more radical removal of invasive plant species, and provided suggestions how to prevent future encroachments by residents. Also more recently (January 2019) Percy spearheaded an initiative to enlarge the lake (see News from the Lake), although a (better) water allocation plan between the farmers might be an easier solution.

Photo source:

Una McCauley
We learned with deep sadness that the United Nations in Sri Lanka announced in Feb 2018 the passing away of its Resident Coordinator and UNDP Resident Representative in Sri Lanka, Ms. Una McCauley.

Photo source:

George in 2018, 9 years after his famous
(rabies eradication) stamp appearance

Aside her public career and dedicated service to Sri Lanka, Una McCauley was a regular visitor of the Thalangama lake. Living in its vicinity time back, she returned nearly every weekend to the lake for a weekend stroll with her dogs. At the lake, she took medical care of street dogs, including Sri Lanka’s most famous stray, George, who featured in 2009 on a Sri Lankan stamp, and was adopted by Una after he lost his home at the lake.

Una McCauley was not only a passionate and selfless humanitarian but cared with her big heart for all the marginalized and underprivileged. See her last interview here. Our thoughts are with her and her children.

Photo source:

Professor Sarath Kotagama
Prof (emeritus) Kotagama is an internationally well-respected ornithologist and environmentalist, former head of the Department of Zoology, University of Colombo, and long-time president of the Field Ornithology Group of Sri Lanka (FOGSL), who lives in the Thalangama neighborhood. Prof Kotagama has not only contributed immensely towards the policy planning of the Sri Lankan government in view of Wildlife, Wetland Conservation and Biodiversity, but also contributed the environmental awareness in general. Given the high educational value of the Thalangama lake, FOGSL joined hands with the Parent-Teacher Association of the Overseas School of Colombo (OSC) to support an annual Walk for Wetlands around the lake (2005-2009), not only to raise funds for wetland protection but also to sensitize students and parents on environmental issues, birds, insects and ecosystems. The Thalangama tanks were also the target for MigrantWatch birding sessions organized by FOGSL with more than 100 bird-loving participants. As a regular sport walker along the lake, Prof Kotagama appreciates the importance of the Thalangama wetland as a roosting site for water birds especially the migratory ones. Concerned about littering and rapid encroachment, he advocates for living harmoniously with nature.

Rohan Prithiviraj Perera
Mr. Rohan Prithiviraj Perera, or in short Prithi, had a distinguished career with the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), serving both in its Headquarters in Paris and in the Sub‐Regional Office in New Delhi, India, as well as Secretary-General of Sri Lanka’s National Commission for UNESCO (SLNCU). More recently Prithi was Chairman of the National Institute of Business Management (NIBM). He is the Founding President of the National Association for Canoeing and Kayaking, Sri Lanka and a Member of the National Olympic Committee of Sri Lanka. Prithi is a vivid supporter of the Thalangama wetlands against threats that undermine their ecological and recreational services, like the proposed highway construction.

R.A. Sarath Kumara
Sarath works since ten years for the Irrigation Department at the Thalangama lake. Given its history, the Thalangama lake is the only water body, canal or wetland within Metro Colombo that is not managed by the Urban Development Authority (UDA) or the Sri Lanka Land Development Corporation (SLLDC), but the Irrigation Department. Sarath is in charge of the irrigation canals, sleuth gates and related infrastructure, has to release water from the lake to the paddy fields, and takes care of daily maintenance work and general landscaping (trimming trees, grass cutting) around the Thalangama and Averihena lakes. He is very hard working, well respected and always ready to assist others as far as his official duties allow.

In late 2016, Pay Drechsel (left) and Neil (Neill) Burke (middle) started cleaning the lake area by removing trash dumped over night or by daytime lake visitors. What started as a weekend activity became the Thalangama Wetland Watch, with cleaning activities on 365 days a year, in the morning and evening. In 2018, Ravi (right) joined the core team, and is since mid 2020 every day active, supported, like Neil, by a fund set up by Pay with the help of members of the lake community. Other voluntary teams are joining them. As an environmental scientist, trained in Germany, and PhD holder working at the International Water Management Institute (IWMI) in Colombo, Pay is well aware of the various ecosystem services wetlands provide, and happy to support the authorities in view of the challenges the Thalangama lake area is facing.