The Coral Gardens of Pigeon Island

Posted - 30 May, 2015

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The most famous person ever to spend a night on Pigeon Island was probably the Victorian cricketer Alfred Inglis, who, as a babe in arms, was aboard the P&O Line steamer Ava when it was shipwrecked off Nilaveli on 16 February 1858.There were no casualties; passengers and crew made off by lifeboat and spent the night on the island, from where they were rescued in the morning. £250,000 in coin also went down with the ship, but most of it was retrieved by divers.

Wrecks on and around Pigeon Island were common during the age of sail and the early steamship era. This rocky, lushly overgrown outcrop, barely a kilometre offshore and only a few minutes by boat from Jungle Beach by Uga Escapes, lies in shallow water, surrounded by powdery white beaches and colourful coral reefs. It boasts no permanent human habitation; the only residents are a colony of blue rock pigeons, whose genetic isolation has made them a protected biodiversity resource, though visually they can be a disappointment – only an expert can tell them apart from ordinary city pigeons. The other flora and fauna of Pigeon Island, however, are typical of small islands off the coast of Sri Lanka –another way of saying that the place is a tropical wonderland in microcosm.

Britain’s Royal Navy, which had a huge base at nearby Trincomalee during the colonial era, used Pigeon Island for target practice; but since the British departed in 1957, the island has remained undisturbed apart from occasional visits by sightseers, nature lovers and scientists. A morning or late afternoon at Pigeon Island is a great experience, particularly for snorkelers, rock-scramblers and lovers of coral reefs and marine life.

Visiting: Boat excursions from Jungle Beach are easily arranged; just check with Reception for availability and the best times to visit, which depend on the tides and the weather.

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