Survey begins to find new route thru’ Sundarbans

Vessels now doing harm to forest, wildlife

Saturday, 26 October 2013

Syful Islam

The Bangladesh Inland Water Transport Authority (BIWTA) has launched a survey to find out a route alternative to the present one used by vessels through the Sundarbans harming the mangrove forest’s flora and fauna, sources have said.

A ship has now anchored at the Bogi point, close to the Sundarbans, from where the officials concerned of the BIWTA and the forest department are jointly conducting the survey.

“The survey is underway to find out an alternative route for the vessels plying through the Sundarbans as the present route is causing harm to the mangrove forest,” Director (Hydrographic) of BIWTA Mahbub Alam told the FE.

He said a high-powered team comprising officials from the ministry of shipping (MoS), the BIWTA and the ministry of environment and forests (MoEF) would visit the spot Saturday to supervise the survey.

The MoEF early this year gave the MoS environmental clearance for letting vessels ply the Rayenda-Shapla-Harintana-Chandpai route through the Sundarbans as the regular Mongla-Ghoshiakhali route became unusable for ships due to its poor navigability.

However, instead of using that particular route, everyday more than 25 oil tankers and other vessels are plying the 60-kilometre-long Sannasi-Rayenda-Sharankhola-Dudhmukhi-Harintana-Andarmanik route further inside the mangrove forest to shorten the journey by two hours and lower the expenses.

Environmentalists expressed grave concerns that plying of such a large number of vessels through the Sundarbans was doing harm to the mangrove forest and its wildlife.

They said the oil tankers and the cargo vessels passing through the forest with high sound and blowing hydraulic horns were disturbing its tranquillity and thus the free movement of wildlife in the sanctuary. So the biodiversity of the UNESCO-declared World Heritage Site was being threatened.

They also said the unabated and unauthorised passage of vessels deep inside the forest was doing colossal harm to the ecosystem of the Sundarbans.

They also noted that the high sound of hydraulic horns was also disturbing food consumption, plying and breeding of the inhabitants of the forest.

In such a situation months back the government formed a committee comprising officials from the MoEF and the MoS to resolve the problem by choosing an alternative route for the vessels. A subcommittee was also formed on September 17 to assess the depth and suitability of the alternative routes proposed by the forest department.

Earlier, the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) asked the MoEF and the MoS to take necessary steps for saving the Sundarbans by ensuring plying of the vessels on the particular route already approved by the authorities concerned, but abandoned due to its loss of navigability.

It also directed the MoS to carry out necessary dredging to restore navigability of the approved route.

The PMO said the current short route used by vessels under the pretext of saving costs and reducing distance posed a threat to the ecology of the Sundarbans.

Of the 10,000 square kilometres of the Sundarbans, according to officials, 6,500 square kilometres are considered naturally sensitive.

A senior MoEF official said the Sundarbans was already under a threat from the climate change. The sea level rise squeezed habitat for the wildlife of the mangrove forest.

Quoting some scientific predictions, he said about 28 centimetres of sea level rise may eliminate nearly 96 per cent of the remaining habitat for Royal Bengal tigers in the Sundarbans. “So, we need to be more cautious about saving the forest and its wildlife as much as we can.”

“The forest has been battered by the two super cyclones Aila and Sidr. We should not further destroy it by creating manmade hazards,” the official added.

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