Conservationists and experts urge for environmental management of navigation and reduction of pollution in Sundarban waters

Mangroves for the Future (MFF) gathers government, civil society and academia to review progress made after the Sundarban oil spill in 2014. 

Navigation in the Sundarban, Shela River, Bagerhat, Sundarban, Bangladesh

Regular spillage of oils, release of ballast and bilge water from vessels navigating through the Sundarbans, and increasing industrial development requires sincere attention to be brought under environmental management, in addition to a contingency plan and preparedness for accidents. Speakers emphasised these views in a follow-up event on the ‘Sundarban oil spill 2014’ arranged by MFF’s National Coordinating Body and the Bangladesh Forest Department on 8 December 2015, in Dhaka, Bangladesh.

The Sundarban oil spill on 9 December 2014 brought the attention of national and international community to the potential risks posed to the world’s largest mangrove forest, which is also a world heritage site and a wetland of international significance as designated under the Ramsar Convention. It was the concerted efforts from the Government of Bangladesh, the United Nations, International Development Partners, NGOs, private sector and people living near the oil spill site in the Joymoni village of Mongla that enabled removal of a large portion of the debris and oil immediately after the accident.

MFF Bangladesh supported a small group of conservationists and biologists to observe the status of the oil spill affected areas in the navigation routes within the Sundarbans. Observations from those trips were shared in this event.

Dr. Niamul Naser, Professor of Zoology in the University of Dhaka, indicated that in some places microorganisms are returning on a limited scale, which is a sign of natural healing; However, a proper baseline of all life forms in the Sundarbans needs to be set for proper monitoring of the changes caused due to anthropogenic stressors like navigation or industrial pollution in the waters, especially to understand the long term impacts on the ecosystem.

Mr. Mohammad Arju, the CEO of Save Our Sea, showed the trends of increased traffic and spatial extent of de-facto and de jure navigation routes of in-country and international shipping through the Sundarbans and recommended initiating the monitoring of vessels by promoting Automatic Identification System (AIS), ensuring ship safety rules and establishing ballast water management system in collaboration with India.

Mr. Amir Hossain Chowdhury shared his experience as the officer in charge of the particular portion of the Sundarbans which was affected by last year’s oil spill, especially the ways in which the Forest Department with help from the community people improvised local techniques to soak and remove the oil from the river to avoid mass spread. He also contended that there is a need for capacity development of the officials to manage such accidents and a permanent response mechanism needs to be established.

IUCN Bangladesh Country Representative Mr. Ishtiaq Uddin Ahmed called for setting up permanent ecological plots and complete biodiversity auditing in regular intervals to ensure the safety and sustainability of the Sundarban ecosystem.

Md. Yunus Ali, the Chief Conservator of Forests, Bangladesh Forest Department, while chairing the event opined that "to keep the economic growth sustainable, knowledge based management is necessary and to environmentally manage navigation and other developments in the Sundarban region, a strong baseline needs to be set".

United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Assistant Country Director Mr. Khurshid Alam echoed that the balance between economic growth and nature’s integrity is the key to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. United States Agency for International Development (USAID) Bangladesh’s Environmental Team Leader Mr. Karl Wurster expressed the commitment to collaborate with the Government of Bangladesh to keep safe the Sundarbans, a valued treasure of nature, in light of the long history of cooperation between Bangladesh and the United States of America.

Lead personnel from the Ministry of Environment and Forests, Forest Department, members of the MFF’s National Coordinating Body and many of the volunteers and experts who worked during the cleanup in 2014 and in the joint Government of Bangladesh-UN mission in response to the oil spill, also participated in the event.

Statistics from the Mongla Port Authority show that navigation in the Sundarban waterways has increased 236 percent in last 7 years. Which means, vessel based regular pollutions may continue to add risks to the world’s largest mangrove habitat’s health even if accidents like the Sundarbans oil spill can be prevented. Increasing patterns of shipping and navigation volume indicates growing industrialisation in the Sundarban Impact Zone and the Sundarban Ecologically Critical Area, which in turn will increase the land based source of pollution if not managed.

Participants stressed on finalising the contingency plan for oil spill response and the standard operational guidelines, and declaring Ecologically Critical Area Rules to control pollution from industrialisation near the Sundarban.

Article from Mangroves for the Future.

Work area: 
Climate Change
Project and Initiatives: 
Mangroves for the Future 
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