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Coastal Patrol Craft, Trincomalee

Sri Lanka Economic Exclusive Zone

Protected Waters

Sri Lanka is a party to the United Nations Convention on Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) acceded to on December 10, 1982 and exercises jurisdiction over the territorial sea, contiguous zone, continental shelf and the exclusive economic zone in keeping with the definitions laid down in that convention.


The territorial waters of Sri Lanka extend 22km (12nm) beyond the coastline and cover an area of about 21,500 sq km. The contiguous zone is the band of water extending from the outer edge of the territorial sea to up to 24 nautical miles.


In addition, the country enjoys rights to a un-mandated ‘exclusive economic zone’ (EEZ) that extends outward 370km (200nm) from its shores and covers an area of about 510,000 sq km. Besides having sovereign rights to resources in the water column, seabed and subsurface, Sri Lanka also has the exclusive right to authorize, regulate and control scientific research within this zone.

Sri Lanka has made a submission to the UN to extend the limit beyond the present EEZ 200nm limit. According to UN law, a country can have continental shelf rights up to 350nm or 100nm from the 2,500m depth, whichever is higher.

Maritime Rescue Coordinating Center (MRCC)

Tel: +94 11 242 1151, +94 11 244 5368 or +94 11 221 2230

Maritime search and rescue operations are co-ordinated by the Sri Lanka Navy in conjunction with Merchant Shipping Secretariat, Sri Lanka Air Force and Coast Guard. MRCC Colombo is manned 24 hrs a day and maintains a continuous listening watch on 2182 kHz and VHF 16 for distress calls. A remote controlled station in Galle is operated from Colombo Radio and maintains a continuous listening watch on VHF 16 for distress calls. There are plans to build a secondary centre in Hambantota, and seven sub-units in Galle, Trincomalee, Point Pedro, Mollikulam, Arugambay, Batticaloa, and Kallarawa.

Marine & Marine Associated Protected Areas

Most of Sri Lanka's National Parks, Strict Natural Reserves and Marine Sanctuaries are set aside for the conservation of wildlife with a focus on mainly conserving terrestrial habitats. The recent few decades have seen a shift to protecting marine life with a focus on coral ecosystems and marine turtles. We hope that this shift will continue to move much further and swiftly to include protection of endangered marine species, fragile marine ecosystems including shipwrecks and critical marine habitats. With marine tourism rising rapidly this focus becomes all the more important.


Urgently needed are further protective measures for sharks, rays, sawfish, reef fish, seagrass beds, areas around shipwrecks, Trincomalee's outer harbour and extension to all marine mammals and further coral ecosystems. Protection for mammals such as humpback dolphins and dugongs that have been squeezed out of most of their habitats needs urgent attention. In the absence of protective measures it is imperative that we all take responsibility for our actions and self-regulate by following best practices as those recommended on this website.


Marine Protected Areas (MPA) are totally part of the marine environment. For example, Bar Reef Marine Sanctuary and Rumassala Marine Sanctuary. The Marine Associated Protected Areas (MAPA) identified in the tables either share a boundary with the marine environment or is part of the marine environment.

Southern Sri Lanka
Southern Sri Lanka

Map of Marine & Marine Associated Protected Areas in Southern Sri Lanka

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SLAM Sri Lanka map
SLAM Sri Lanka map

Source: 2014 Google maps Howard Martenstyn Sri Lanka Amazing Maritime

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Northern Sri Lanka
Northern Sri Lanka

Map of Marine & Marine Associated Protected Areas in Northern Sri Lanka

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Marine Nature Reserves
National Parks of Sri Lanka
Marine & Marine Associated Sanctuaries of Sri Lanka
Maritime Ordinances & Acts

Sri Lanka's Coastal Zone Management Plan, the National Environmental Act, the Fisheries Ordinance and the Fauna and Flora Protection Ordinance provide guidelines and regulations for the use and protection of the marine environment in general and sensitive marine ecosystems.


The Fauna and Flora Protection (Amendment) Act, No. 49 of 1993 empower the Director, Department of Wildlife and Conservation to take necessary measures for the protection of the fauna and flora of Sri Lanka. The Act provides for the establishment of marine sanctuaries, marine reserves, buffer zones etc. Entry into, and activities in, some of these areas are totally prohibited; in others, control is by permits or licenses. In yet others, restrictions are more relaxed.


Fisheries and Aquatic Resources Act No. 2 of 1996 replaced the Fisheries Ordinance of 1940 and all the amendments to it, and provides for the management, regulation, conservation and development of fisheries and aquatic resources in Sri Lanka.


Although fishing for indigenous sporting fish in Sri Lanka is virtually free it is regulated. The Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (Amendment) Act, No. 25 of 2013 and other important regulations may be obtained from the Department of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (DFAR). Some sea fish species are prohibited by law from being taken in Sri Lankan waters. DFAR has provisions for banning the use of destructive fishing gear, declaration of fisheries reserves and licensing system for all fishing operations.


In 1980, Cabinet approval had been granted to the Ministry of Fisheries to declare the Hikkaduwa Harbour area, Polhena Reef area, Great and Little Basses Reefs, Passekuda and Kalkuda Bay and the Pigeon Island as Marine Sanctuaries under the Fisheries Ordinance. Yala Strict Natural Reserve, declared in 1938, has a short coastline and is normally not opened to visitors without a special permit.

In 2019, Gazette Extraordinary No. 1774/27 recognizes three maritime zones (Category I: Kalpitiya and Trincomalee and Category II: Mirissa) for the purpose of collecting entry fees

Sri Lanka maritime laws are available for download. Further reading: Concerns deeper than the Ocean by Prof. Sarath De Silva.

Spearfishing in Sri Lankan waters is a chargeable offence by law (Gazette Extraordinary No: 2008/31 of 0303.2017).

Sri Lankan law (Antiquities Ordinance No. 9 of 1940) prohibits any sunken vessel within territorial waters older than 100 years to be salvaged including removal of artifacts without a permit.

Removal of bêche-de-mer (sea cucumbers), corals, chanks and shells from Mannar to a point 2 miles south of Talawila is banned. Harvesting of sea cucumbers within 5 nm of the shoreline all around Sri Lanka is not permitted.

You are breaking the law if you go whale and dolphin watching in Kalpitiya, Mirissa and Trincomalee maritime zones or visit a marine national park or sanctuary without a permit (park fee) from the Department of Wildlife and Conservation (DWC). Be aware that you cannot get around the law by going fishing or diving in a whale and dolphin watching maritime zone without paying the park fee.

No person can use a local fishing boat to fish in Sri Lanka Waters unless a certificate of registration is issued in respect of such fishing vessel. In addition, for any person to engage in any prescribed fishing operation in Sri Lankan waters, a fishing operation license is required as per Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (Amendment) Act No. 35 of 2013.

Polythene and Regiform banned to reduce environmental pollution

In July 2017, Cabinet approval had been granted for a series of measures to gradually end the use of polythene and regiform.

These include the ban of:

  • Polythene for decorative purposes at all national, social, and religious ceremonies.

  • Import, manufacture or sale of shopping bags and lunch sheets made of polythene.

  • Import, manufacture or sale of containers (lunch boxes), plates, cups and spoons made of polystyrene

  • Sale of processed or cooked meals packed in polythene containers.

These measures are in addition to the existing ban on polythene less than 20 microns in thickness on the approval of the Central Environment Authority (CEA).

'No person shall catch thresher shark species, of the family Alopiidae when engaged in any fishing operation, recreational or sport fishing’, and that ‘no owner or skipper of a fishing boat shall retain onboard, transship, land, store, sell or offer for sale any part or whole carcass’.

In addition to the ban on shark finning at sea, the whale shark and Oceanic whitetip shark have been added as protected species under the Fisheries and Aquatic Resources Act of Sri Lanka and CITES Appendix II.

Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species (CITES)

Sri Lanka has been party to Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species (CITES) since 1979 (close to four decades). The Department of Wildlife Conservation is the management authority for the Convention in Sri Lanka. However, we still lack domestic legislation to be able to enforce the international agreements. According to CITES, International trade is permitted as long as "such export will not be detrimental to the survival of that species". As a result, export or import permits are required along with non-detrimental findings. Therefore, it is imperative that baseline studies be conducted and trade should not be allowed unless adequate legislations is in force.

Presently, the Fauna and Flora Protection (FFPO Amendment) Act, No 22 of 2009 and the Customs (Amendment) Act No 2 of 2003 An Act To Amend the Customs Ordinance (Ordinance No 17 of 1869) are the two main laws available in Sri Lanka relating to wildlife trade. But these are not sufficient to prosecute any perpetrators linked to the international wildlife trade.

On CITES lists, the species are grouped in the Appendices according to how threatened they are by international trade.

  • Appendix I lists species that are the most endangered among CITES.

  • Appendix II lists species that are not necessarily now threatened with extinction but that may become threatened unless trade is closely controlled.

  • Appendix III is a list of species included at the request of a Party that already regulates trade in the species and that needs the cooperation of other countries to prevent unsustainable or illegal exploitation.

Convention on Migratory Species
United Nations Convention on the Sea

Convention on Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS) is an intergovernmental treaty formed under the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP). CMS Appendix I, is reserved for species that are threatened with extinction, obligates CMS Parties (numbering at least 116) to strictly protect the animals, conserve and restore their habitats, mitigate obstacles to their migration, and control other factors that might endanger them.  CMS Appendix II includes migratory species that need or would significantly benefit from international co-operation for which CMS encourages global and/or regional Agreements and concerted action among Range States.

Since 1979, Sri Lankan waters within the Indian Ocean have been part of a protected zone or ‘whale sanctuary’ declared by the International Whaling Commission (IWC).


Protection was further extended to all marine mammals by the 38-nation Indian Ocean Marine Affairs Co-operation (IOMAC) Organisation in 1994 and marine mammals are also protected under Sri Lankan law by the Fisheries and Aquatic Resources Act No. 2 of 1996.

Sri Lanka is party to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea that was adopted by the third United Nations Conference on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS III) on April 30, 1982 after lengthy conference negotiations at which 157 Governments took part. On December 10, 1982 the Convention was signed by 119 delegations. The final Convention consisted of a preamble and 445 Articles, divided in to 17 parts and 9 annexes. It can be seen that the Law of the Sea Convention is not restricted to codifying, consolidating and reaffirming the existing international law. In addition, it establishes novel concepts such as the exclusive economic Zone (EEZ), the regime for Archipelagic State and the common heritage of man kind.


Article 2 of Part II provides for the breadth of the territorial sea to be up to a limit of 12 nautical miles. Article 46 provided for the establishment of a 200 nautical mile exclusive economic Zone. Article 118 of part II introduced a new concept of Archipelagic baselines, helping to delimit the territorial sea and other zones of Archipelagic States. There are special provisions in Articles 56, 61, 62 and 119 of the UNCLOS III for conservation of the living marine resources. Article 91 of the UNCLOS III is also important concerning the rights and duties of coastal states.