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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
In late 2016, Pay Drechsel and Neil (Neill) Burke started cleaning the lake area by removing trash dumped secretly or by lake visitors. What started as a weekend activity became quickly more ambitious and a daily job, especially for Neil who is 365 days a year, morning and evenings monitoring the lake area, supported by a fund set up by Pay with the help of other members of the lake community. Pay is actively helping Neil on weekends and whenever his job allows him to return on time to his residence near the lake. 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 multi-purpose value of urban wetlands and the challenges our lakes are facing from pollution and invasive plants. Part of Neil's and Pay's activities is raising awareness on these issues in collaboration with the authorities, farmers and other stakeholders. Pay is also leading the Thalangama Wetland Watch and coordinating this website.