World Wetlands Day
Ratargul crippled with plastic waste, illegal fishing
The Ratargul Swamp Forest has been endangered due to indiscriminate dumping of plastic wastes into water, reckless fishing with prohibited nets, and rampant movement of tourists.
Against such a backdrop, Bangladesh, along with the other nations across the world, is observing World Wetlands Day on Friday, with the theme ‘wetlands and wellbeing.’
Conversations with local environmentalist groups revealed that the swamp forest came into focus after 2012, with a rising influx of tourists. But it came as a bane to the country's lone freshwater swamp forest as dumping of plastic waste, including plastic bottles, one-time glass, plate, and other packages, rose there to an alarming extent.
During a recent visit to the spot, a number of dams were seen inside the forest, indicating fishing activities there. Also, plastic waste was seen floating on the water.
The groups took repeated measures to prevent the use of plastic wastes in the wetland and make the people aware of the issue, but only to receive a little results
Al Amin, president of the Ratargul Social Welfare Council, said they conduct clean-up drives in the site as well as awareness campaigns among the tourists on a regular basis. He, however, underscored the need for strict warnings from the Forest Department since the swamp forest is under their jurisdiction.
In this regard, Salah Uddin, the Forest Department’s range officer for Sari Range in Sylhet, said his department conducts drives to clean plastic wastes each week. As the plastic wastes are harmful for the swamp forest, they make the locals as well as the tourists aware of the environmental effects.
Range Officer Salah Uddin claimed that there are no dams and illegal fishing cases inside the forest and that the Forest Department is vigilant to prevent such activities.
According to the upazila administration in Gowainghat, the Forest Department announced the Ratargul Swamp Forest as a preserved site in 1973. The area, a total of 504.50 acres of land surrounded by haors and rivers, was unknown to the majority of the tourists until 2012.
Locals estimate the daily count of tourists visiting the site to be several thousands now. In the face of a rush of site-seers, the Forest Department built a 50-feet watch tower in Ratargul in 2014, though the environmentalists objected to the move.
Some unscrupulous people have allegedly erected illegal dams in the swamp forest to catch fish. They are even using banned current and ring nets for fishing.
Kashmir Reza suggested keeping a portion open for the tourists and the remaining area to be declared as a sanctuary, in addition to raising awareness for its preservation.
During a recent visit to the spot, a number of dams were seen inside the forest, indicating fishing activities there. Also, various plastic wastes were seen floating on the water.
The locals alleged that a group of miscreants catch fish with nets in the wetland in the dead of night, putting the forest and its biodiversity in danger. They even used pesticides several times to catch fish, killing all life in the water. In a most recent drive, the upazila administration carried out a driver in the forest on 9 September last year and recovered illegal fishing nets.
However, Range Officer Salah Uddin claimed that there are no dams and illegal fishing cases inside the forest and that the Forest Department is vigilant to prevent such activities.
According to the Forest Department, there are 73 species of plants, 26 species of mammals, 20 species of reptiles, 175 species of birds, and 9 species of amphibians in the forest.
Kashmir Reza, president of Environment and Haor Development Organisation, said it is imperative to regulate the entry of tourists to preserve the biodiversity in the forest. He suggested keeping a portion open for the tourists and the remaining area to be declared as a sanctuary, in addition to raising awareness for its preservation.