Creating wonders in depths
By Lt.Com. Chaminda Walakuluge
Underwater is fascinating due to the mystery that it entails and the historical context. The water that lies beneath the surface is often the reminder of a human tragedy - the ending of a journey and a loss of human lives.
Underwater museums are getting popular among those who want to add some adventure into their lives by exploring historic shipwrecks, sculptures, archeological sites or some important objects buried along beautiful coral reef making a magnificent underwater eco-system.
Sri Lanka can now boast of such a magnificent eco-system that will create soon with the opening of Sri Lanka’s first ever underwater museum built by the Sri Lanka Navy (SLN) off the enchanting Galle harbour in the Southern coast of Sri Lanka.
This underwater Museum is first of its kind in Asia and no doubt a star stud in a unique class of its own.
The Baia underwater park in Italy, ‘Herod’s Harbour’ in Israel, ‘Cancun’ in Mexico, ‘Lanzarite’ in the Canary Islands and ‘Florida-Keys’ national marine sanctuary are some of similar attractions around the world.
SLN Commander Vice Admiral Piyal De Silva, a veteran diver himself declared open this first ever underwater museum on April 5, 2020, which lies just 800m off the Galle harbour at a depth of 60 feet.
The Navy intends at attracting tourists and diving enthusiasts and also steering a culture of recreational diving in the island.
According to Vice Admiral De Silva, the project was proposed by Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, and commenced on January 15, 2020, following the approval of the President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and encouragement received by Defence Secretary Maj. Gen. (Retd) Kamal Gunaratne.
This underwater naval museum is dedicated to fallen heroic sailors of the Navy Diving Unit over the years.
In addition, the underwater splendor is unique as it exhibits a large collection of artifacts and sculptures made by the Navy itself.
Even the statues on exhibit were handmade by naval personnel and produced from concrete and eco-friendly materials. The site is expected to catalyze the formation of corals which will be an added beauty to the site in due course.
This new attraction is expected to draw children, adults, experienced divers, scuba beginners as well as ordinary swimmers towards a new and an unforgettable experience.
Initially, the Navy had decided to construct this underwater museum utilizing discarded train compartments and fishing vessels. However, since it was not possible to source discarded train compartments and boats at short notice, the Navy was forced to rethink its concept that subsequently resulted in the novel design.
The Navy was not alone in this endeavour as the ICC Construction (Pvt) Ltd, INSEE Cement (Lanka) Limited and Sri Lanka Ports Authority had extended support unprecedentedly as philanthropic partners towards the completion of the project.
Spelling out the objectives of the project, the Navy Chief said that the initiative also intends to promote regeneration of corals and fish breeding in the sea area.
“It is very encouraging to see that the fish breeding has already started at this underwater museum site. By the next season, it is certain that tourists will be able to dive in this area and the surrounding hotels will be able to add this site to their list of tourist attractions”, he said.
Meanwhile, the Navy requests the fishing community not to engage in fishing at this site during the initial stage, as once fish breeding to take place the fishers could reap its maximum benefits in the future.
Commander Southern Naval Area, Rdmiral Kassapa Paul, officers and sailors of the command immensely contributed in completion of the praiseworthy work during the construction of this mega project.
The Navy believes that this underwater sculpture park will contribute greatly to the tourism industry in Sri Lanka, which is starting to thrive following the coronavirus pandemic.
Admiral Paul said the best season to dive to the museum was the off and inter monsoon seasons as environment in the museum would not be clear due to high underwater current and poor visibility during other seasons.
He said objects like sadakada pahana, korawakka gal, mura gal etc of Sri Lankan identity were also on displayed at the museum.
“The SLN is now in the process of building its second underwater museum in Trincomalee to offer the divers a marvelous experience in the East Coast,” Admiral Paul told the defence.lk.
If you are a scuba diver or a person who takes challenges to explore new mysterious adventures, no doubt this unique underwater museum in the Southern coast of Sri Lanka would definitely be in your bucket list.