There has long been talk of protecting Saint Martin’s, the only coral island of Bangladesh, which is on the verge of ruin due to excessive pressure of tourists. Finally on 2 January, the Department of Environment issued a 14-point public notice which was also published in the media. But nothing has changed at Saint Martin’s. A visit to the island on Wednesday revealed that no one is following the directives of the public notice. Tourists are not following the health guidelines at all.
The public notice issued by the Department of the Environment declaring the area to be ‘ecologically endangered,’ said that unregulated tourism and lack of awareness among tourists, as well as their irresponsibility and anti-environmental anti-ecological habits, have brought Saint Martin's rare ecology and biodiversity to the brink of extinction.
Restrictions have been put in place to protect the island. This includes a ban on the use of motorised and non-motorised vehicles including bicycles, motorcycles, and rickshaws or rickshaw-vans. Also prohibited is throwing plastic or any kind of waste into the sea and the Naf River, sailing around the island, walking on the rocks in the tidal area, walking in the sea turtle’s nesting area, turning on the lights and using flashes to take pictures at night, lighting fires or fireworks and lanterns on the beach, using loudspeakers and making a noise and also barbecue parties. Some other restrictions include not going to Chheradia Island acquired by the government, feeding the birds with chips or any other food. However, the authorities have not taken any action to enforce these restrictions and the tourists are remain careless.
At 8.30 am on Wednesday, more than 2,000 tourists boarded seven ships from Teknaf's Damdamiya jetty headed for Saint Martin's. Seven hundred more tourists went there on a vessel from Cox’s Bazar. More than 500 people traveled to Saint Martin in more than 10 wooden trawlers from the Naf River. In all, 3,500 tourists visited Saint Martin in one day. This number of tourists doubles on Friday, Saturday and holidays.
Most of the nearly 400 tourists aboard the Keari Sindabad were not wearing masks. Tourists were throwing chips from the ship to the seagulls. Many people were taking pictures and videos of seagulls with the chips and food. Many were even throwing packets of chips, food scraps and polythene into the water. There is no one to stop them.
Ibrahim-Al Azad, 38, a businessman from Uttara in the capital, stared in amazement when asked if he was aware of the ban on throwing chips to the seagulls. He asked, “Does eating chips kill birds?”
Manager of Keari Sindabad Md. Shah Alam told Prothom Alo, “We are trying to mobilise awareness and warn the tourists about the restrictions, but no one is bothered. Around 95 per cent of the tourists do not wear masks.”
The beach area is covered with plastic waste. None of the 124 hotels, 40 cottages and over 50 restaurants of the island have a sewerage treatment plant (STP). The blue water of the sea is polluted by waste and garbage
According to the public notice, tourists are barred from going to Chheradia, the last part of Saint Martin’s. But even on Wednesday, more than 1,500 tourists went to Chheradia in at least 30 speedboats and 12 boats. There is no one to stop them. The notice has banned all types of motorised and non- motorised vehicles on the island's beaches. But there were more than 300 motorcycles, 3000 bicycles and a few hundred three-wheeler tourist vans. People are going around the beach on bicycles and motorcycles hired on an hourly basis. The tourists are destroying the crabs, snails and oysters and the overall biodiversity of the beach.
The beach area is covered with plastic waste. None of the 124 hotels, 40 cottages and over 50 restaurants of the island have a sewerage treatment plant (STP). The blue water of the sea is polluted by waste and garbage. Regarding the public notice, the UP chairman of Saint Martin’s island told Prothom Alo that he had heard about the notice, but no one has informed him in writing about its implementation. Describing the public notice as anti-people, the chairman said, “About 200 hotels and cottages have been built on the island in the last decade due to the indifference of the Department of Environment. Now, all of a sudden they issued a public notice without discussing it with anyone. If implemented, it will endanger the lives of 10,500 people on the island.”
Station commander of Saint Martin’s Coastguard, Lieutenant Arifuzzaman, and sub-inspector (SI) Tarek Rahman on charge of the police outpost there, said that they had not received any order about the public notice.
The public notice also mentions legal action against those violating the directives. But when asked why this was is not being implemented, Sheikh Nazmul Haque, deputy director, Department of Environment of Cox's Bazar, said they lack the workforce to enforce the rules. It may take months for the restrictions to take effect in full, he said.