Tourists won’t be allowed to stay overnight in St Martin's

Iftekhar Mahmud . Dhaka | Update:

.The government has taken a decision to ban tourists' overnight stay in St Martin's Island from 1 March.

Also, no visitors would be allowed to go to Chhera Dwip and Golachipa area of the island.

An inter-ministry committee on 23 September took the decision to save the endangered biodiversity of the lone coral reef island of the country.

The decision was taken based on a report of the Department of Environment (DoE) filed on 9 September.

According to the report, some 10,000-20,000 tourists visit St Matin's everyday and stay there at night, risking the island’s biodiversity.

Moreover, the roads built by the local government and other authorities are also damaging the island.

The DoE report pointed out that the tourist influx has led to the depletion of the groundwater in the island.

The saline water of the sea might replace the groundwater anytime, ruining the biodiversity of the island completely, according to the report.

Human wastes, it found, have made the water of the island contain 10 times more bacteria than other places of the country.

The committee has recommended that no motor cycle, car or speedboat should be allowed to run in the island. It has also recommended ban on GO bags which are being used to check erosion.

Such bags are harming coral reef of the island, the report mentioned.

The report insisted that no lights should be put on at night as the lights are disturbing the breeding of turtles.

The report has said these decisions should be implemented within six months to one year.

“All the infrastructures of the St Martin's Island are illegal. We have served notice to the owners to evict these infrastructures and we would evict the structures if they don’t comply with our notice. But we would give them some time for removal of these structures,” environment and forest secretary Abdullah Al Mohsin Chowdhury told Prothom Alo.

"In the long run, the island would be preserved only for biodiversity," he added.

In the medium term, the report has recommended bringing down the number of ship that would travel to St Martin's to 2 from 20, online registration for visiting the island, and limiting the number of visitors to 500 maximum every day.

The recommendations include ban on construction of new infrastructures and eviction of existing ones, banning generators and use of solar power instead, and a complete ban on sales of the land in the island.

The long-term decisions include acquisition of land evictiion of all the hotels and motels, and relocation of the residents of the island elsewhere.

About such recommendations, IUCN Bangladesh’s country director Rakibul Amin said there is no alternative to such steps as many countries around the world have banned tourists in the places where biodiversity is endangered.

Recently, he cited example, Thailand has banned all kinds of tourism-related activities in Phi Phi Island of the Southeast Asian country.

According to the report, the island is home to some 68 kinds of coral, 151 algae, 191 mollusca, 40 species of crab, 234 species of sea fish, four types of amphibian, 28 types of reptile, 120 kinds of bird, and 20 types of mammals.

Also, 175 kinds of plants, 2 types of bat and five types of Dolphins live in the island.

In 1999, the government declared the island an ecologically critical area (ECA) under the Bangladesh Environment Protection Act (1995). The law forbids any act that can possibly damage the biodiversity of the island.

Four other laws also suggest the preservation of biodiversity of the island.

Dwelling on the matter, biodiversity expert Reza Khan wondered how so many infrastructures were built in the island while so much laws were there to prevent such activities.

“What has the authorities done so far? Corruption has brought the island at the edge,” he regretted and added that there is still a chance to save the island by following the directives of the environment department.

* This report, originally published in Prothom Alo print edition, has been rewritten in English by Galib Ashraf

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