On 3 November 2014, the Government of Bangladesh declared the country’s first Marine Protected Area, Swatch of No Ground, to safeguard whales, dolphins, sea turtles, sharks, and other oceanic species under the Wildlife (Conservation and Security) Act, 2012.
The creation of the Swatch of No Ground Marine Protected Area (SoNG-MPA) occurs as the world’s conservation community prepares to meet at the World Parks Congress, a global event held every 10 years for the purpose of promoting safeguarding the earth’s most valuable natural places and formulating solutions to conservation challenges.
The SoNG-MPA was signed into law by the Ministry of Environment and Forest (MoEF) on 27 October, 2014. “This is a momentous occasion for Bangladesh and we are proud to protect the rich diversity of marine species inhabiting our waters,” said Yunus Ali, Chief Conservator of Forests of the Government of Bangladesh.
Rubaiyat Mansur of the Wildlife Conservation Society’s Bangladesh Cetacean Diversity Project added that “The SoNG MPA supports an astonishing diversity of dolphins, porpoises and whales including species in need of immediate protection. Declaration of Bangladesh’s first Marine Protected Area shows our country’s commitment to saving its natural resources and wonders.”
Spanning some 672 square miles (1,738 square kilometres) in size with a depth of 900+ meters, the Swatch of No Ground Marine Protected Area includes deep waters at the head of the submarine canyon from which it gets its name as well as coastal waters offshore the world’s largest mangrove forest in the Sundarbans.
The Bangladesh Cetacean Diversity Project implemented by WCS worked along with the Government of Bangladesh since 2004 to ensure the long-term protection of the cetaceans in waters of Bangladesh through collaborative efforts with local communities. Pioneering work in these waters found large numbers of Irrawaddy dolphins, finless porpoises, Pacific humpback dolphins, Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins, pantropical spotted dolphins, spinner dolphins, and what may be a resident population of Bryde’s whales.
The creation of the SoNG MPA—which borders the territorial waters of India—will promote discussions with Bangladesh’s neighbour on a potential transboundary protected area, which contains similar species richness facing the same threats such as entanglement in fishing gears and climate change.
"The SOS funded project saving threatened coastal cetaceans in collaboration with gillnet fishermen in coastal waters of Bangladesh also played a major role in contributing information to plans for the MPA" explained Brian Smith, Director, Asian Freshwater and Coastal Cetacean Program, Wildlife Conservation Society and Asia Coordinator, IUCN SSC Cetacean Specialist Group.
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