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Crow Island Makes A Comeback

For an island, we have a surprising number of islands. Pigeon Island. Slave Island. Taprobane Island. And also, Crow Island. Except, Crow Island isn’t really an island. It is  connected to the mainland and is now arguably South Asia’s biggest coastal park spread over 7.8 hectares.

Crow Island is located in Modara, Colombo 15—roughly 7 kilometres north of Colombo’s CBD in Fort. With a history of criminal activity and extensive pollution, Crow Island has since transformed into a family-friendly, recreational beach park after years of public agitation.

With the assistance of the World Bank, the Ministry of Defence and Urban Development began work on the park in 2014. The Beach Park was completed at a total cost of Rs. 275 Million, and opened to the public in April 2016 as part of the Ministry of Megapolis and Western Development’s efforts to develop the Colombo North region.

Bordering the mouth of the Kelani River, Crow Island boasts mixed coastal vegetation (as detailed in the 2014 Environmental Report by the Metro Colombo Urban Development Project). The Beach Park was developed amidst mangroves and marshes that house an ecosystem of unique flora and fauna.

The Dehiwala beachside restaurant, Barracuda, also opened a swankier branch at Crow Island. The beach, however, cannot be compared to that stretch south of Colombo. For now, consider this area a quieter, less-crowded alternative to Galle Face Green. However, developments that attract more visitors may also contribute towards increased pollution in the future, so it is important to be mindful of the beach park’s surrounding ecosystem when visiting.

Turning right from the entrance, a northern promenade leads to a watchtower with views towards Negombo, as well as a fresh perspective looking back at Colombo from the north.

From the watchtower, the coastal grassland dominates the foreground before the ocean. In the background, the port infrastructure of Colombo Harbour is visible, and only tall structures such as the Lotus Tower and World Trade Center stand over the buildings of the suburbs beyond Fort.

Tucked away under the trees lining the northern promenade is a large, well-maintained children’s playground that fills up on the weekends, with clambering kids and supervising parents.

Straight ahead from the beach park entrance is a viewing deck that overlooks the Indian Ocean. Although several bins are available along the promenade, pieces of plastic waste seen left on the coastal grassland show that the pollution issue has still not been tackled—a concern that developments must address with increased visitation to the beach park.

The area gets its name from the abundant population of crows that resided here during the colonial period. Now, throngs of local residents try to outnumber the bird population as they visit the park to eat, swim, play, or take selfies.

A fenced cement path is built upon the rocks of the northern breakwater. This is one of two breakwaters at the beach park, which are meant to minimise ocean currents and the strength of incoming waves towards the shore.

According to the Survey Plan included in the Environmental Report, a small area of water close to the southern breakwater has clearly been demarcated as a “safe area for bathing”. However, the area closer to the northern breakwater seems to be more popular among visitors, despite a clear warning sign.

The main promenade continues on its southern portion, left from the entrance. This stretch mirrors the northern promenade with a watchtower, and beach huts selling short eats, achcharu, soft drinks, toys, and other knick-knacks.

At the end of the southern promenade, the walkway converts into a jogging and cycling path similar to those found around urban wetlands such as Bellanwila and Nugegoda. The path here winds through mangroves, which have been regenerated to improve biodiversity on a tributary of the Kelani River.

The scenic path continues along the edge of a deserted cove dotted with coastal cabanas frequented by couples, and a lone buoy which floats against the backdrop of Colombo and its harbour.

At the end of the cove, the path loops and heads back to the beach park. A guard post with army officers sits on an adjacent dirt track, which leads to an incline on a cement path towards the colonial Whist Bungalow, now known as Pradeepa Hall.

Undoubtedly, the central area of the beach park is much cleaner than it used to be. But towards the end of the cement path, the remaining pollution seems to have escaped to the southern waters of the area, where it now sits in a state of neglect.

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