Biodiversity of St Martin's under threat
The biodiversity of Bangladesh's lone coral island St Martin's is being destroyed by businesses related to tourism, thousands of tourists pouring in every day, and illegal infrastructure, experts say.
Unplanned infrastructure has mushroomed in the island to meet the onrush of tourists, they said.
Researchers and environmentalists said high population density, huge illegal infrastructure built in an unplanned manner, destruction of mangrove plants and bushes, collection of sea shells and stones, unplanned development of tourism, visit by a huge number of tourists, and dumping of garbage were threatening the island.
Assistant Director Shariful Islam of the Department of Environment in Cox's Bazar said all public and private infrastructure built in the island were illegal.
He said the island was facing a serious existential crisis and that a policy and coordinated management was required to save it and to protect its bio-diversity and special features.
Environmentalists said the stock of bio-diversity in the island has almost been exhausted. The St Martin's Island is separated from Shah Parir Dwip in Teknaf upazila of the mainland by a 8km channel. Around 7,500 people live in the 8-square kilometre island.
A research by the DoE, with the assistance of the UNDP, mentions that the island has a number of eco-systems, coral rich areas, mangroves, lagoons and stony areas. The island is a safe haven to various species of fauna.
The beach of the island is also home to internationally endangered green turtles and olive turtles.
The presence of 153 species of sea weeds, 66 species of coral, 187 species of oysters, 240 species of fish, 120 species of birds, 29 species of reptiles and 29 species of mammals were recorded at the St Martin's Island in 2010.
There were no newer statistics available.
The government declared the St Martin's Island “ecologically critical area (ECA)” in 1999, DoE sources said.
Mujibur Rahman and Khondker Al Masum, organiser of St Martin's Hotel Owners Association, said there were six large residential hotels, 100 cottage resorts and 50 restaurants on the island.
Mujibur said during the tourist season, 6,000 to 7,000 people visit the island every day.
Three large sea trucks carry about 2,000 tourists to the island from Teknaf every day and many trawlers ply the route illegally carrying passengers.
People at the Paschim Para of the island said the tourists wander on the beach all night. They are noisy and they use fireworks and throw garbage everywhere.
Fazlul Quader Chowdhury, president of Bangladesh Paribesh Andolan (Bapa) Cox's Bazar district committee, said the island has lost its glory due to activities of the land grabbers and polluters. He emphasised on the need for a policy for the island.
Locals also told The Daily Star that a vested interest group had been trying to grab land in the island.
Chairman Nurul Amin of St Martin's Union Parishad said during the last two monsoons a kilometre of embankment in Uttar Para of the island had been devoured by the sea.
Prof Alok Paul of the department of forestry and environmental science in Chittagong University said the island plunged into a crisis from the day tourists started going there on large vessels.
He said large vessels have to be stopped from going there to save the island, adding that some parts of the island should be declared protected and made off-limits to tourists.