“Beach Bikes” roaming in the 120-kilometre-long sea beach in Cox’s Bazar are crushing hundreds of crabs and ruining their habitats under its wheels.
The sea beach in Cox’s Bazar is an Ecologically Critical Area (ECA). The government has banned all vehicles in the sea shores. But beach bikes are still very much active in all major beaches in the town.
In a recent visit to the Sugandha point in the afternoon, the correspondent saw 10-12 beach bikes running to and fro in the beach. Another 10-15 bikes were sitting idle on the sands. Similar scenes were seen to its north in the Seagull and Laboni points as 10-12 bikes were also operating there.
For Tk 200, a tourist can go from Sugandha point to Seagull point and return on a beach bike. If a tourist wants to go to Laboni point and then return to Sugandha point, he will have to pay Tk 300. At most, three tourists can travel alongside the driver on a bike. On a busy day, each bike makes 20-30 rounds.
In the Kolatoli and Dariyanagar points, more than 20 beach bikes operate. At Himchhari, Inani and Patuartek points another 40-50 bikes are active.
Each biker is left with only 25-30 per cent of their daily earnings after paying the owner his share. Still, a biker can earn up to Tk 2,000 a day.
These bikes are making the beaches inhabitable for crabs. Crabs constantly get crushed under its wheels and their habitats get ruined.
When asked about the environmental implications of driving bikes on an Ecologically Critical Area, Shafiullah, a beach bike driver at the Patuartek point, said that the drivers have the necessary permit from district administration. Some have purchased this permit from others and are running a business of beach bikes.
The bikes are also posing a threat to the safety of tourists. Zakia Sultana, a tourist from Bahaddarhat, Chattogram, complained that at the Patuartek point two beach bike riders were following her. The drivers offered her a trip on their bikes for a reduced fare. She tried to avoid them and headed towards the water. But the riders still kept following her right to the edge of the sea. She and her parents felt threatened for their safety.
Beach Bike Owners Association president Md Anowar Islam said, there are a total of 127 beach bikes currently active in Cox’s Bazar. Out of them, 62 bikes are registered under the association and they operate from Laboni point to Dariyanagar. In Himchari, Inani, Patuartek points another 65 beach bikes are active, but they aren’t registered under the association.
He further claimed that majority of the drivers of those unregistered bikes are underage and come from the Rohingya community. They misbehave with the tourists and swindle extra money from the travellers.
Leaders of the association said, beach bikes were banned in 2008. The ban got lifted after four years and in November of 2012, 30 beach bikes started operating. Now the number of bikes has increased four times. To obtain a permit to operate beach bikes, one has to pay a sum of Tk 16,500 to the tourism cell of the district administration.
The head of the tourism cell and an executive magistrate Syed Murad Islam said, so far 62 beach bikes have been given license. The bikes are supposed to operate from Kolatoli to Laboni point, where there are no crabs. Riding bikes in any other points of the beach is prohibited as thousands of crabs roam around there which amuse the tourists. We will investigate if beach bikes are operating in the beaches south of Kolatoli and take necessary measures. "If needed, we will cancel the license of beach bikes."
In the 40-50 km area between Dariyanagar to Patuartek beach, crabs are found in huge quantities. Each crab weighs 300-500 grams. Local fishermen said, during the Covid-19 pandemic there were hardly any tourists at the beaches for almost one and a half years. During this time, the number of crabs increased in folds.
Department of environment, Cox’s Bazar’s deputy director Sheikh Md Nazmul Huda said, beach bikes should be completely banned in the 80 km area between Dariyanagar and Shahpari Island. If not, they will completely destroy the biodiversity of the beaches.
*This report appeared in the online edition of Prothom Alo and was rewritten for the English edition by Ashfaq-Ul-Alam Niloy.