Saint Martin’s bright lights usher in darkness

The three-story Atlantic Resort on the west beach on Saint Martin's Island. Although such lighting is prohibited on the island at night, none off the hotels and resorts follow thatProthom Alo.

Seeing the extravagant lighting in the darkness of the night, you might mistake it for a wedding event. But, it’s a hotel actually. The three-storey building has been decorated with such bright and elaborate lighting just to attract tourists. The hotel named Atlantic Resort is located on the west beach of the coral island Saint Martin's in the Bay of Bengal.

Colourful lights are lit like this from dusk till dawn in the illegally constructed resorts and cottages, built on the beach of the island. With these bright lights on the isolated beach, the hustle and bustle never ends. Bar-B-Q, sea fish, all sorts of food are found on the beach till the dead of the night.

Since the beach is lit up, tourists move around on vehicles like easy bikes, motorcycles and cycles. This destroys the biodiversity of the island including red crabs, snails and seashells.

The beach is littered with trash and garbage. Plastic and polythene is thrown into the sea and is clogged in the underwater coral layer. Sea turtles can’t lay eggs on the seashore because of the crowds.

Fried sea fish being sold on the beach in the dead of night.
Prothom Alo

An environment activist from the island Abdul Aziz told Prothom Alo that mother turtles start coming to lay eggs on the shore from November. No turtle eggs could be collected in three months till 9 March.

The mother turtle might have felt unsafe to lay eggs, with people making a racket on the brightly lit up beach, he opined.

At present, more than 4,000 tourists visit Saint Martin’s Island every day. There’s an additional 1,500 to 2,000 tourists on the weekends. Hotels, resorts, cottages and restaurants have extravagant lightings in competition to attract tourists.

While the decorative lights have increased, not many people are concerned with the serious damage being inflicted upon the island’s biodiversity and environment for this.

Three reporters of Prothom Alo observed the Saint Martin’s terrifying conditions while staying on the island for seven days in three phases between February and March.

More than 30 resorts and cottages have been set up round the island, destroying the natural Keya forest there. Corals and stones are being hauled from the seashore to use in the resorts.

Also Read

Various structures are being constructed on the island’s farmland. Tube wells are pumping out saline water for extracting more water than the capacity.

Announcing Saint Martin’s Island an Ecologically Critical Area (ECA) on 19 April 1999, extraction of stone, sands, coral, algae, snail, seashells etc. as well as all sorts of building and infrastructure constructions were banned.

In the past two decades, more than 230 hotels, resorts and cottages have mushroomed around the island defying government regulations. None of these have any environment clearance certificates.  

Confirming the fact, deputy director of the environment department in Cox’s Bazar Muhammad Hafizur Rahman said all quarters have to be sincere in following government rules and regulations to protect Saint Martin’s island from harm.

Otherwise it’s impossible for the environment department alone to save Saint Martin’s island. The island’s under strict monitoring now so that no hotel or resorts can be set up illegally.

The 14-point regulations issued by the environment department for the protection of the island states, it is prohibited to do any types of decorations with lights, lighting fires, fireworks or releasing hot-air paper lanterns on the beach at night.

Movements in the area where sea turtles lay eggs, leaving lights on and taking photos with flashlights at the beach during night, using loud speakers, making a racket or playing songs on high volume and holding Bar-B-Q parties on the beach are prohibited, but the real picture is just the opposite.

Walking on pebblesentertainment at the tidal area is banned. Movements of motor vehicles like the motorcycles or non-motorised vehicles like cycles, vans and rickshaws on the beach are prohibited as well.

Movements in the area where sea turtles lay eggs, leaving lights on and taking photos with flashlights at the beach during night, using loud speakers, making a racket or playing songs on high volume and holding Bar-B-Q parties on the beach are prohibited, but the real picture is just the opposite.

Manager of the Atlantic Resort Mohammad Solaiman told Prothom Alo, “Everything you are seeing, has been done for the entertainment of the tourists. Such lighting is done in 40 to 50 more hotels and resorts around the island where people are enjoying themselves on the beach. Atlantic has been established following in the steps of other hotels and resorts indeed.”

There are lightings at different resorts including Nonajol, Jochnaloy, Dwipantor, Shayori, Valley Eco, Kingshuk, Dreamers’ Paradise, Godhuli, Sand Castle, Shurjodoy, Shurjasto, Shurjosnan, Bela Vista, Sun Set and Serenity on the west, south and north beaches of island. Tourists throng resorts by the secluded beach more.  

Saint Martin’s Island hotel owners’ association president Abdur Rahman said the current number of residential resorts and cottages in the island is more than 230. He told Prothom Alo that none of those has environment clearance certificates. And they charge as much as they want.

Also Read

Cox’s Bazar forest and environment conservation couuncil president Deepak Sharma remarked that cruelty of the humans is causing the island to suffer more and more. He said that at least 900,000 (9 lakh) tourists are visiting Saint Martin’s island every season (five months from November to March) enjoy its natural beauty. About 300,000 (3 lakh) of them spend nights there.

Different establishments including hotels, resorts and restaurants have earned Tk 3 billion (300 crore) from these 300,000 tourists if it cost Tk 10,000 each of them on average. However, it caused a damage worth more than Tk 10 billion (1,000 crore) to the biodiversity and environment.  

Saint Martin’s Union Parishad (UP) chairman Mujibur Rahman said whatever has happened in Saint Martin’s island in the past happened defying the law. Different schemes are being taken now to protect the island.

Apart from waste management to keep the island clean, a central sewerage treatment plant (STP) is essential to manage the waste generated from the hotels, he continued.

Former UP chairman of the island Nur Ahmed complained that the 10,000 people living on the island are unable to renovate their houses for more than a decade due to restrictions from the environment department.

He said there are no brick kilns, or shops that sell rods, cement and corrugated tin on this island announced ecologically critical area. Yet, how did these 230 hotels and resorts get established? Everyone in the locality knows the owners of these. But, they keep silent out of fear.