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Indo-Bangladesh: Climate Change, tourism causing ‘irreversible damage’ to Sundarbans Reserve

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Sundarbans
Bengal Tiger of the Sundarbans. Image source: blogspot.com/

New Delhi: Unregulated tourism and rapidly increasing temperatures are posing “irreversible damage” to the Sundarbans biosphere reserve, one of the largest mangrove habitats in the world, environmental groups warn.

Uncontrolled tourism is polluting the reserve, which is shared by India and Bangladesh, to an extent that is “beyond rectification,” Belinda Wright, executive director of the Wildlife Protection Society of India (WPSI), told reporters.

“Tourism, especially for tiger viewing, is increasing exponentially in the area and needs to be monitored. It is causing major pollution, as huge quantities of plastic material and other debris are dumped into the water,” she said.

The Sundarbans, a delta of the Ganga-Brahmaputra-Meghna river basin, is spread over 9,630 square km (3,718 square miles).

The Indian side of Sundarbans covers a 4,000-square-km (1,544-square-mile) area with a population of around 5 million.

Out of 102 islands within the Sundarbans, 54 are inhabited while 48 are forested. The forested part has three wildlife sanctuaries and a national park, designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Image source: benarnews.org
Image source: benarnews.org

‘A heightened state of danger’

The largest habitat of the Royal Bengal Tiger, the Sundarbans is home to five critically endangered reptiles, including the Hawksbill Sea Turtle and River Terrapin.

The endangered and near-threatened species in Sundarbans include the Asian Giant Softshell Turtle, Indian Rock Python, King Cobra, Greater Adjutant Stork, Black-headed Ibis, Fishing Cat and Gangetic Dolphin.

According to official figures, about 175,000 tourists visited the Sundarbans tiger reserve, while another 42,000 people visited the biosphere reserve in 2015.

Besides large-scale tourism, climate change is also posing a threat to Sundarbans, according to World Wildlife Fund-India (WWF-India).

A Climate Adaptation Report released by the group warned that Sundarbans was “already in the midst of a heightened state of danger.”

Atmospheric warming is causing thermal expansion of waters, inducing a sea-level rise of about 12 mm per year, the report said, adding that surface air temperatures over the Bay of Bengal have been rising at a rate of 0.019 degrees Celsius (0.034 degrees Fahrenheit) per year.

“Given the disproportionately heavy impact that climate change is expected to have on this delta area, the need to improve adaptive management and develop more appropriate solutions for this unique system has become acutely urgent,” the WWF report said.

Ratul Saha, who heads WWF’s Sundarbans Landscape team, said, “The current policies and patterns of development have to be completely revised, or else the situation would be catastrophic. The livelihoods and the survival of the people are at risk.”

Climate change has been found to be responsible for several cyclonic storms and increased frequency of extreme weather events in the recent past in the Sundarbans, Saha said. It has also been causing coastal erosion, change in embankments, acidification of waters and submergence of islands, he added.

Cross-border infiltration

Another major threat to the habitat is the increasing salinity in the waters, which is resisting the growth of mangroves, locals said.

Besides rising salinity levels, infiltration from Bangladesh into the Indian side of Sundarbans in West Bengal state is a matter of concern for wildlife conservationists.

“Infiltration does take place. We cannot dispute that. But these intruders come only during the honey season [April-May],” Pradeep Vyas, Chief Wildlife Warden in West Bengal told reporters.

“We are jointly patrolling the border areas with the Border Security Force and Indian Coast Guard to check infiltration,” he said.

Vyas said his department was doing its best to protect the habitat.

“We have banned the use of polythene bags. We are also trying to develop new tourism destinations to take pressure off the over-utilized parts [of the Sundarbans],” he said.

(The article was originally published in benarnews.org)

  • Annesha Das Gupta

    Yes, a fusion of environmental concern and tourism should be done. Ecologically responsible tourism will not only benefit the endangered flora and fauna but also will keep the flow of people and finance coming in.

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Sri Lanka to Reduce Airline Charges to Help Tourism Industry

The government currently predicts $3.7 billion in revenue from tourism this year, down from an initial forecast of $5 billion

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srilanka, tourism
Buddhist monks take part in a prayer ceremony at a buddhist temple for the victims, three days after a string of suicide bomb attacks on churches and luxury hotels across the island on Easter, in Colombo, Sri Lanka, April 24, 2019. VOA

Sri Lanka’s government announced Tuesday it will reduce ground handling charges for airlines and slash aviation fuel prices and embarkation fees to help the country’s vital tourism industry recover after Easter suicide bombings killed more than 250 people.

Tourism Minister John Amaratunga said the decision will lead to an increase in flights to Sri Lanka and a reduction in ticket prices, which will attract more tourists to the Indian Ocean island nation, famed for its pristine beaches.

Seven suicide bombers from a local Muslim group, National Thowheed Jammath, attacked three churches and three luxury hotels on April 21, killing 258 people, including 45 foreigners mainly from China, India, the U.S. and Britain. Tourist arrivals declined 57% in June from a year earlier, dealing a severe blow to the tourism industry, the country’s third-largest foreign currency earner after remittances from overseas workers and textile and garment exports.

sri lanka, tourism
Kandy Temple of the Tooth in Sri Lanka. Wikimedia Commons

The cuts in charges and fees will be in place for six months, said Johanne Jayaratne, head of the government’s tourism development agency. About 2.3 million tourists visited Sri Lanka in 2018, when 29 airlines offered 300 flights per week. After the April 21 attacks, 41 fights per week were canceled, amounting to a loss of 8,000 passenger seats. Several airlines have reinstated their normal schedules since then, but others have not.

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Dimuthu Tennakoon, chairman of the Board of Airline Representatives, said the government decision will encourage airlines to increase their capacity and offer attractive fares.
“That will definitely happen with this reduction because fuel and ground handling contribute a significant percentage of the total cost element of any airline,” he said.

Tourism accounts for 4.9% of Sri Lanka’s GDP. Around half a million Sri Lankans depend directly on tourism and 2 million indirectly. The government currently predicts $3.7 billion in revenue from tourism this year, down from an initial forecast of $5 billion. (VOA)