Coral Sanctuary information
Hikkaduwa’s overexploited ‘coral sanctuary’ stretches out from the string of ‘Coral’ hotels at the north end of the strip to a group of rocks a couple of hundred metres offshore. You can swim out to the rocks from the Coral Gardens Hotel, where the reef runs straight out from the shore. The water over the reef is never more than 3m or 4m deep. Once upon a time this was a magnificent garden of fishy colours and flowering corals, but today the reef is sadly a shadow of its former self with much of the coral dying and the fish flipping away to more pristine spots. One of the big reasons for this demise has been coral bleaching, caused by oceanic and atmospheric conditions (quite probably man-made), which struck the reef in 1998, affecting about half the coral. The tsunami caused some further damage, but the real problem, as always, has been poor human management.
It’s easy to see the coral. Dive shops and many hotels and guest houses rent out snorkelling gear for around Rs 300 a day, or less. Stay alert in the water so that you don’t, say, get run over by a glass-bottomed boat (not a recommended vehicle for viewing the reef anyway, given the boats’ running-into-coral proclivities).