The famous turtles of Baizid Bostami shrine face a serious threat as the shrine authorities have begun constructing a multi-storey commercial building on the bank of the pond where the endangered black softshell turtles live.
A stay order from the High Court, expiration of the building's construction approval and environmentalists' protests -- all are being ignored by the shrine managers, hell-bent on going ahead with the construction.
"If the building is higher than two storeys, it will block sunlight from reaching the pond. Direct sunlight is a must for these turtles' survival," said Manzoorul Kibria, associate professor of Zoology at Chittagong University.
Though Chittagong Development Authority (CDA) in 2010 gave the approval for a four-storey building there, it's no more valid.
"If someone cannot start construction of a building within three years of the approval, they have to renew the permission," said Chief Town Planner Shahinul Islam Khan of the CDA.
Earlier, the shrine authorities had to abandon their attempts to construct the building twice -- in 2008 and 2012 -- amid protests from environmentalists.
In May 2012, the HC stayed construction of buildings on the banks of the pond following a writ petition by Bangladesh Environment Lawyers Association (BELA).
The stay order is still in place, said BELA's Chittagong Coordinator Anwarul Islam Chowdhury.
"The BELA coordinator is not telling the truth. There was another [HC] order around six months ago okaying the construction," claimed the general secretary of the shrine managing committee, also named Anwarul Islam Chowdhury.
He, however, declined to elaborate on the order. He also refused to produce any document to prove his claim.
Asked whether the CDA had given any environmental guidelines while giving the clearance for the building's construction, Shahinul Islam said: "We kept provisions for keeping sufficient empty space around the pond."
The CDA officials said they were unaware about latest construction effort which, according to the locals, began a month ago.
The Bostami turtles, locally know as Gozari-Madari, were declared extinct in the wild by the International Union for Conservation of Nature in 2002. The turtles can be found only in Sylhet region of the country and in Assam of India, apart from the shrine pond in Nasirabad of Chittagong.
The pond itself is in a bad shape. A lot of people every day go there and feed the turtles, which they believe can bring them good luck. The food items often rot in the water, said Zoologist Kibria, who in 2011 conducted a survey on the pond's water quality.
In another survey in 2014, Poribesh Bachao Andolan found the level of dissolved oxygen in the pond water at 2.01 mg/L against congenial level of 5 mg/L.
There is also high amount of other germs in the water, Kibria said, adding that blocking direct sunlight and air to the pond would further worsen its condition.
The number of turtles living in the pond could not be ascertained as no survey has been carried out here for over a decade.
Contacted, Assistant Conservator of Forest (Wildlife) Kajal Talukder said they currently did not have any programmes to conserve the turtles or their habitat.