Posted by: The ocean update | June 6, 2015

Global concern for Sunderbans (Bangladesh)

The Sunderbans ecology is as fragile as it is unique.

The Sunderbans ecology is as fragile as it is unique.

June 6th, 2015. LONDON : The World Heritage Committee has expressed alarm over a massive oil spill in the Bangladeshi side of the Sunderbans — a world heritage site — and asked Bengal and Dhaka to join hands in a “trans-boundary agreement” to protect the world’s most spectacular mangroves. 

As of now, the Sunderbans World Heritage site of Bangladesh and Sunderbans National Park of India are two separate entities. The commission suggests a cross-border pitch to make the area a “single entry on the world heritage list”.

In an exclusive interview to TOI from Paris, Feng Jing, the head of the Asia Pacific Unit at the World Heritage Centre, said: “Governments of Bangladesh and India were encouraged to co-operate and consider initiating actions that could lead to the joint inscription of Sunderbans as a world heritage site. We want the Sunderbans to become a trans-frontier site. This will encourage better protection of the ecosystem”.

He added: “We have had some serious concerns with the preservation of the Sunderbans in Bangladesh. The recent oil spill is a serious alarm bell. The last time we reviewed the state of conservation in the Indian side, we found no real concern”.

The committee will meet in Bonn (Germany) from June 28 to July 8 to review the state of conservation of world heritage sites. The session will be chaired by Maria Bohmer, minister of state at Germany’s Federal Foreign Office. Ahead of the meeting, Unesco has prepared a state of conservation document on the Sunderbans which has raised some serious concern, especially over a thermal power plant being planned by Bangladesh.

The report says: “The State Party reports that the 1320 MW Maitree Super Thermal Power Plant… will be located 97km from the World Heritage property. However, the distances from the plant to the three wildlife sanctuaries, are 65km, 75km and 80km. It is recommended that the committee reiterate its request to the State Party to undertake a comprehensive assessment of potential impacts on the Sunderbans”.

The project, which will burn over 4 million metric tonnes of coal a year, is around 100km from the India-Bangladesh border, making Indian activists worry about environmental hazards. Sunderbans veteran Tushar Kanjilal had said that emission from such a plant could hit the eco-system within a 200-km radius.

Unesco has also asked Bangladesh for a report on the impact the December 9, 2014, oil tanker accident has had on the environment.

Earlier, Bengal wildlife advisory board member Biswajit Roy Chowdhury expressed concern for the Olive Ridley turtles that migrate to the mangroves around the time the oil spill took place and the fate of Gangetic and Irrawaddy dolphins that the mangroves are home to. “The oil spill can affect the migration of Olive Ridleys. A study must be undertaken to monitor the turtles and record their arrival this year,” Roy Chowdhury had said.

The mangrove delta also sustains crocodiles, dolphins, migratory birds, otters and an amazing variety of fish. “Since the Sunderbans is a single ecosystem, we must take precautions,” Pradeep Vyas, additional principal chief conservator of forests and the director of Sunderbans Biosphere Reserve had said earlier. The senior forester was also concerned over the long-term impact of the oil spill. “The oil spill in Bangladesh will affect the oxygen content in water there and hamper fish stock. This will hurt the livelihoods of fishermen. Mangrove trees will also get affected,” he had said.

The Unesco World Heritage Centre said it is seriously concerned about the impact of the oil spill. It has asked Bangladesh to invite a joint World Heritage Centre/IUCN reactive monitoring mission to review the potential impact of the power plant.




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