Losing an idyll

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Frustrated and driven to their wits’ end, in April 2018, environment officers of different government agencies warned that after years of unchecked pollution and excessive tourism, St. Martin's, the country’s sole coral island on the Bay of Bengal renowned for its unique beauty and tranquility, has lost all its splendour.

They offered this bleak perspective during remarks at a seminar held at the Cox’s Bazaar district Circuit House on the unique ecosystem, and possibilities of ecological preservation of St Martin’s. As the chief guest of the programme, Dr Sultan Ahmed, director of the Department of Environment said, “St. Martin's has become like Dhaka’s Farmgate and Gulistan. No birds are visible in St. Martin's now, except crows which indicates excessive presence of waste.”

If the current rate of exploitation due to tourism and unfettered construction continues, surely it will “not take long” for the island to sink, Dr Sultan said. 

Director of Environment Department (Planning), Muhammad Soleman Haidar in his research paper said “It took hundreds of years for the island to assume its unique form and ecosystem that contains rare animals including 153 species of sea algae, 157  species of marine plants, 66 species of corals, etc.”

Some 10,000 tourists per day along with its 8,000 permanent residents are taking a huge toll on the island, speakers said.

“The island can sustain no more than two to five thousand people, with proper environmental management the island still can be saved,” Haidar  added.  There was a consensus that the time has come for some drastic measures to be taken if the government is serious about saving the island. Numerous measures in the past have all gone to waste.  Chairman of the Cox’s Bazar Development Authority Forkan Ahmed noted that the island had been declared an Ecologically Critical Area as far back as 1999. In 2009 a masterplan to save the island was taken up..

“Despite all efforts, the failure to protect St Martin’s must also be borne by the government. Now the imperative must be to leave aside all considerations and take some legally binding steps if we are to save it,” he appealed.

Dipak Sharma Deepu, president of Cox’s Bazar Forest and Environment Preservation Council, proposed a ban on tourism to St Martin’s for three years, during which it would come under government control and a tourism policy as well as one on construction would be framed before its doors open again. Additional Deputy Commissioner of Education and ICT (ADC) Ashraf Hossain presided over the programme.

Environment officers of different government agencies have warned that after years of unchecked pollution and excessive tourism, St. Martin's, the country’s sole coral island on the Bay of Bengal renowned for its beauty and tranquility, has lost all its splendour.

They offered this bleak perspective in remarks at a seminar held at the Cox’s Bazaar district Circuit House on the unique ecosystem, and possibilities of ecological preservation of St Martin’s. As the chief guest of the programme, Dr Sultan Ahmed, director of the Department of Environment said, “St. Martin's has become like Dhaka’s Farmgate and Gulistan. No birds are visible in St. Martin's now, except crows which indicates excessive presence of waste.”

If the current rate of exploitation due to tourism and unfettered construction continues, surely it will “not take long” for the island to sink, Dr Sultan said. 

Director of Environment Department (Planning), Muhammad Soleman Haidar in his research paper said “It took hundreds of years for the island to assume its unique form and ecosystem that contains rare animals including 153 species of sea algae, 157  species of marine plants, 66 species of corals, etc.”

More than it can take

Some 10,000 tourists per day along with its 8,000 permanent residents are taking a huge toll on the island, speakers said.

“The island can sustain no more than two to five thousand people, with proper environmental management the island still can be saved,” Haidar  added.

There was a consensus that the time has come for some drastic measures to be taken if the government is serious about saving the island. Numerous measures in the past have all gone to waste.

Chairman of the Cox’s Bazar Development Authority Forkan Ahmed noted that the island had been declared an Ecologically Critical Area as far back as 1999. In 2009 a masterplan to save the island was taken up.

“Despite all efforts, the failure to protect St Martin’s must also be borne by the government. Now the imperative must be to leave aside all considerations and take some legally binding steps if we are to save it,” he appealed.

Dipak Sharma Deepu, president of Cox’s Bazar Forest and Environment Preservation Council, proposed a ban on tourism to St Martin’s for three years, during which it would come under government control and a tourism policy. Additionally a policy on construction would be framed before its doors open again as well. Additional Deputy Commissioner of Education and ICT (ADC) Ashraf Hossain presided over the programme.

The environmental pollution of the country's only coral island, Saint Martin, has magnified the ill-effects of the negative impact of excessive tourism. Arbitrarily built hotels and motels, deforestation by cutting trees, and extracting of waste and plastic materials has been the me’;

Besides, Coral and biodiversity are in jeopardy due to devastating activities, including the construction of 200-brick concrete hotels, multi-storied building, sewage disposal and open latrines, and continuous withdrawal of St. Martin's level of sweet water with electric pump in order to meet the tourist needs.

According to the sources, the number of permanent residents on the 8.3 square kilometer island is about 9,000. Besides, more than 9000 tourists can be found visiting there every day. It means  the pressure borne by the island is of 18,000 people, when it can ideally maybe support upto 5,000. So the island is losing its beauty and natural beauty day by day. It doesn’t take too long to see that the coral island of St Martin’s is losing its biodiversity and slowly dying.

According to the Department of Environment, in 1999, the government announced the Environmental Critical Area (ECA) of St. Martin’s Island to protect biodiversity. Once,  68 species of coral, 151 species of aloe, 191 species of moles or creeping animals, 40 species of crab, 234 species of marine fish, 5 species of dolphins, 4 species of amphibians, 28 species of reptiles, 120 species of birds, 20 species in , There were many species of mammals, 175 species of plants, 2 species of bats, and much much more could be found making up its biodiversity. Many of these creatures are now on the way to extinction. They are being lost, due to the difficult times conditions wrought by climate change, on top of the pollution.

According to the sources, the environmental survey also found that excess tourists are threatening the balance of the island and destroying biodiversity. There are several hundred species of marine organisms, including coral, stone, zinc, snail shells, limestone, and so on. Now the tourists are rushing to the wooden or speedboat to see the unimaginable view of this torn island. The island's biodiversity has also been threatened day by day.

Experts have advised environmental protection against environmental degradation of these two islands that are compromised and sensitive.

Ecologist and IUCN's former Country Representative Ishtiaq Uddin Ahmed said the St. Martin's Island is an environmentally contaminated area and sensitive. If there is any environmental or any disaster for any reason then it will be difficult to recover it. If the disruption of the island was natural, it would have been disastrous.

He also said that many animals including the different plants of the island have already disappeared. Various animals, including marine tortoises, came to lay eggs on St. Martin's and Chura Island. It has been found that the number has fallen drastically. Due to the crowd of people due to the arrival of extra ponds, there is no hike in the turtle island. If this is not the case now then it will not be possible to stop the disaster.

Deputy Director of Cox's Environment Department Kamrul Hassan said that in the last two decades, many hotels-motels-resorts have been developed on this island illegally, only to meet the tourists’ demands in St. Martin. Many multistoried buildings have been built. The Department of Environment does not have any clearance or permission for this. As well as raising stones, the sand on the beach has been lifted for unscrupulous purposes.  for these installations. There were many tall trees and Kebabs, including the Talgacha, on the island, and have also been cut down. Boundary wall has been constructed with geo textile. These traders are destroying the natural environment of the island to gain business advantage.

He said that the Department of Environment has taken several steps to stop the illegal activities and took legal action. Kamrul Hassan further said, various steps have been taken to make the locals aware of the environment. Efforts are being made to preserve biodiversity by forming a project called St. Martin's Biodiversity Development Project. The official said that the level of groundwater on the island of St. Martin is very thin. Due to the arrival of additional tourists here, superfast water was hoisted in the tourism season. Due to that fact saline water has been generated in 50 tube wells in the north of the island. It has had major negative effects on the lives of the residents of St. Martin.

Meanwhile, locals demanded to create an environmentally friendly tourism industry designed to protect the environment-surroundings and biodiversity of the island of St. Martin’s. Environmental organization Cox's Bazar Forest and Environment Conservation Council Adviser Biswajit Sen said, if this island is not protected, then this island will disappear in the sea. Now they are only waiting for the inevitable, when the coral island sinks.

“Three years! For three years must be closed. And in these three years, the condition of St. Martin's life will be restored," Biswajit said.

A question of sustainability

Environment Office of Zone Mohammad Moazzam Hossain said that all the brick-built buildings of St. Martin's, developed illegally, will be evicted. This has already been decided more than once.

He also said that the nature and environment of this island is being destroyed due to the establishment of additional people's settlement in St. Martin's and thousands of tourists in the tourism season every day. Human waste garbage is clamping down the bottom of the transparent water of St. Martin. It is going to be destroyed with coral reefs of water. Due to water pollution, its biodiversity is also lost. In this situation, the Environment Department is implementing the development project of St. Martin's and Krebadip Biogeography.

Mr. Kamrul Hasan, Senior Chemist and Assistant Director of Cox's Bazar Environment Department said that the plastic and other dirt under water for underwater water treatment under the Department of Environmental Development (BWD) through the development project for the Baltiman Island and Chura Island will be regularly cleaned. The diving team will work to clean all the dirt rubbish. The activities of this project will last for one year. Other projects include the Turtle Conservation and Reproduction, St. Martin's Clean and Biodiversity Protection, and Regular Operations for the Protection of St. Martin's Environment.

Deputy Commissioner of Cox. Kamal Hossain said, protecting the nature and biodiversity of St. Martin's Island and islands is very important. Due to the activities of additional tourists, the island has already suffered a lot of biodiversity and environmental nature. On behalf of the government, policy decisions have been taken to protect the biodiversity of the island. Last October, we heard the government had moved to ban tourists from staying overnight St Martin’s Island, which local residents said will hit hard the tourism business of Bangladesh’s lone coral island. The news broke recently after an inter-ministerial committee recommended the ban in an effort to save its biodiversity.

The committee, however, recommended allowing tourists during daytime with a ban on visiting Chera Deep and Gola Chipa parts of the island. The panel also recommended banning plying of motor-cycles, cars and speed-boats on the island and a blackout during nighttime to protect its ecosystem. Two months later however, in December as the tourist season hit its peak, we heard none of the said restrictions of the ban were being applied. St Martin’s and all its beauty, its tranquility, still needs saving.

Additional Reporting by Dipak Sharma in Cox’s Bazaar.

  • Losing an idyll
  • Issue 33
  • Courier Briefing
  • Vol 35
  • DhakaCourier

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