Quite a number of large development projects, especially power plants in Patuakhali coastal region, considered the biggest sanctuary for hilsa fish, are putting their routes of migration at stake, fisheries experts say.
In only one upazila (sub-district) -- Kalapara -- the government has taken projects to set up six power plants, one sea port, a special economic zone and a four-lane highway.
The power energy and mineral resources ministry has declared Kalapara a “power hub”.
The government has built four bridges from Barisal to Kalapara. The Barisal-Kuakata highway has turned into a four-lane highway.
It has also plans to build an airport in the region. There are some other development projects.
A total of 30,000 acres of land will be needed for implementing all these projects, according to Kalapara upazila officials. Already some 15,000 acres of land have been acquired and handed over to different companies.
The construction works of Payra Sea port and coal-fired power plants have begun.
According to conservationists, once a major sanctuary of hilsa fish, Chandpur, is no longer a good habitat for the flocks of this fish variety due to poor navigability of the river and pollution.
Now, the Patuakhali coastal region, particularly Andharmanik, Payra, Bamnabad and Noakhali river, have become the good sanctuary for hilsa fish.
Once power plants are built, the rivers of this region will be the source of water for the plants and hot water and wastes will be dumped into the river, experts cautioned. Many ships will be plying on the rivers.
Thus, the most crucial migration route for the hilsa fish to come to rivers from the Bay of Bengal will be disrupted.
A research report by Bangladesh Fisheries Research Institute, the United Nations University and the United Kingdom-based International Institute of Environment and Development (IIED) said that Kalapara and Kuakata are the most critical route and sanctuary for the hilsa.
During the jatka (hilsa fries) phase, the hilsas move in Andharmanik river and then they return to the Bay of Bengal, according to the report. As there is still no pollution there, the hilsas have good food supply.
Waterkeepers Bangladesh and Bangladesh Paribesh Andolon (BAPA) conducted a research on the impact of six power plants and other development projects in Patuakhali. It raised question as to whether the landmass of Patuakhali can accommodate these industries.
Waterkeepers Bangladesh convenor Sharif Jamil told Prothom Alo that hilsa trade in Patuakhali amounts to Tk 40 billion every year.
“The big projects will affect the success Bangladesh has achieved in the past decade in increasing hilsa production. The flocks of hilsas may leave the place,” he said.
State-owned North-West Power Generation and China are jointly implementing a 1,320-megawatt coal-based power project and 35 per cent of its work is so far complete.
In the environmental impact assessment report of the project, it was said that a total of 4.8 million coal will be fired a year and 1,000 tonnes of ashes will be produced. A total of 4,200 cubic meters of water will be collected from the Bamnabad river and the hot water will be released there.
Centre for Environment and Geographical Information Services (CGIS), a trustee research organisation of the water resources ministry, conducted the research.
It said hilsa sanctuaries will be affected by the projects.
Bangladesh Fisheries Research Institute cheif scientific officer and hilsa reseacher Anisur Rahman said to Prothom Alo, "Hilsa fish is very sensitive to pollution and the projects in Kalapara will certainly have serious impact on them."
BRAC University professor emeritus Ainun Nishat told Prothom Alo that a good number of power plants in a particular region might be the cause for large scale pollution there.
He said as per environmental law, there should be combined assessed of impacts and risks of these power plants.
Bangladesh Agricultural University's Fisheries department professor Abdul Wahab said hilsa production doubled in Bangladesh in a decacde, thanks to varies government projects. He, however, expressed his concerned that this achievement might be affected by the large power plants.
“The rivers in Kalapara are a large sanctuary for hilsa, not only in Bangladesh but also in a global context. The power plants may leave serious negative impact on the hilsa production,” he said.
When contacted, the state minister for power, energy and mineral resources Nasrul Hamid said they are making environmental impact assessment for every power plant they are setting up in Kalapara.
He, however, admitted that the government has not done any strategic environmental assessment in this region as the country’s experts did not recommend it.
* This report, originally published in Prothom Alo print edition, has been rewritten in English by Mushfique Wadud.