1 February 2013, Thondaimanaru, Jaffna- Professors Sarath Kotagama, Nimal and Savitri Gunatilleke and former Director, Planning and Research, Ministry of Education Sterling Perera joined Governor G. A. Chandrasiri, Hon. Douglas Devananda, Minister of Traditional Industries and Small Enterprise Development, Security Forces Commander Major General Mahinda Hathurasinghe and Dilhan C. Fernando of Dilmah Conservation in restoring an icon amongst the scientific community of Sri Lanka. The Field Research Station (FRS) in Thondaimannaru was established in 1968. It offered students including several of the eminent scientists present, the opportunity to test theory, study nature and develop technologies based on practical study. In 1984 is ceased to function as a result of the ongoing conflict.
Former students from the north and south alike talked nostalgically of their study of the Thondaimannaru Lagoon with its diverse ecosystems and the ground breaking research that was conducted at the centre. Dilmah Conservation in partnership with the Field Ornithology Group of Sri Lanka (FOGSL) and the Centre for Children's Happiness, Jaffna (CCH) reconstructed the Station with the facilitation of Governor Chandrasiri. On 1st February 2013 the first phase was inaugurated in the presence of several academics who were involved in the establishment of the Centre and who benefited from the Centre. The FRS was handed over to its hereditary custodians the Field Work Centre (FWC) and the people of Jaffna through the Reconciliation through Power of Nature programme carried out by Dilmah and its partners, FOGSL and CCH.
At the inauguration, Dilhan - son of Dilmah Founder Merrill J. Fernando - announced the Merrill J. Fernando Awards for Habitat and Species Conservation, which would be presented annually to groups of students who develop original, effective, practical and sustainable initiatives in the two areas, with the objective of contributing to the restoration of biodiversity and conservation of nature in the Jaffna peninsula. The Field Research Station was established in 1968 by a group of young academics who wanted to upgrade the standards of scientific education in the Jaffna peninsula and provide students the opportunity to carry out important field studies. Their belief was that education was an integral part of creating a healthier community not just in Jaffna but across the country. During the war, the equipment and papers of the FRS were shifted to several locations, but it could never regain its former importance or glory until Professor Sarath Kotagama of the FOGSL discussed the plight that had befallen on the FRS with Dilmah Conservation which immediately offered to rebuild the facility. On January 24th 2012, the foundation stone was laid to rebuild the ThondamanaruField Research Station. The FRS is located across the Lagoon from its original location on a parcel of land donated by the chief priest of the Selvasannithy Murugan Temple ' Sivasiri Thangarajah Iyer.
Speaking at the event, the Governor mentioned his pleasure at being an early contributor towards the rebuilding of the FRS and that his office would continue that support in the future. Minister Devananda expressed his appreciation for the invitation to take part in an event where the cream of Jaffna's eminent scientific community was present. Professor Sarath Kotagama recollected being part of the FRS in 1970's. Also speaking at the event was Professors Savitri and Nimal Gunatilleke of the University of Peradeniya who had accompanied several groups of university students from the south in the 1970's and 80's for field research at the Station. Speaking at the event, Dilhan C. Fernando shared the philosophy of the Dilmah business, of sharing the success of the family company's brand with the underprivileged and in promoting sustainable interaction with the environment. He commented that Dilmah Conservation built the station for future generations of students whose participation in understanding nature and in applying that knowledge to enhancing quality of life and conservation of nature are essential. 'A healthy natural environment and human welfare are indisputably interrelated. As the Northern Peninsula develops we must recognise that for human development to be sustainable, it must be accompanied by sustainable interaction with and conservation of Nature. Dilmah is proud to be a part of the Thondaimannaru Field Research Station and will continue its support through the Awards announced today.'
The Field Research Station will resume its support for students in Jaffna through a series of programmes that will commence shortly. It will also benefit from further development with the establishment of laboratories, library and other facilities. Importantly the opportunity for students from the North and South to work together will aid the reconciliation process whilst contributing to Nature.