Sundarbans submerged after Cyclone Yaas

High tide submerged the road connecting forest outpost of Sundarbans in Koyra of Khulna on 26 May.

The main food of tigers in the Sundarbans include deer, wild boar, monitor lizards and other animals. Many of these animals give birth in May that was when Cyclone Yaas hit the forest this year.

High tide inundated almost the entire area of the world’s largest mangrove forest for two straight days in wake of the cyclone. A large portion of the new born boars and deer are feared to have been washed away in the tide.

Besides, severe erosion has begun in the forest’s Raimangol and Arapangashia rivers. Fear looms large over possible crisis of water as ponds in the Sundarbans have been filled with saline water.

Cyclone Yaas hit the Indian coast on 26 May. However, high tide entered the coastal area of several districts in Bangladesh as an impact of the storm.

Sources of the forest department said this year Cyclone Yaas submerged the largest area of Sundarbans in last 14 years. Such high tide didn’t enter the forest even when Sidr struck in 2007, Aila in 2009 and Amphan in 2020. There are 33 forest outposts in east and west areas of the Sundarbans. This time, water also inundated all mud roads connecting the forest workers’ houses to their workplaces. Eleven jetties have been damaged.

A team of the forest department visited Sundarbans two weeks ago to see how many offspring various species of animals including deer, wild boar and monitor lizards have produced. The team was hopeful, but the forest department now fears a large portion of these baby animals have been taken away by high tide. Many reptiles including monitor lizards have also been washed away.

Locals said dead deer started were found floating in various outposts and neighbouring villages of the forest on 27 May. Locals have recovered at four dead deer to date. Forest department staff, however, received no news on any tiger’s death as of Friday.

The conservator of forest department’s Wildlife and Nature Conservation Circle, Mihir Kumar Doe told Prothom Alo, “We have heard the news of floating bodies of deer killed by Cyclone Yaas. We have instructed the workers at all of our Sundarbans’ offices to prepare the tally. However, no crocodile from Karamjal Wildlife Reproduction Centre has been washed away.”

Sources at the forest department said, this time high tide submerged almost entire Sundarbans. Water entered the Karamjal wildlife sanctuary in Mongla of Bagerhat. High tide also submerged many areas of the forest on 27 May. Forest workers of Sundarbans saw erosion stretching about 60 kilometres on the bank of Raimangol and Arapangashia rivers. They sent a report to the office of the chief forest conservator on the matter.

Meanwhile, saline water has filled 53 of 54 ponds that are the main source of freshwater in Sundarbans. Forest department said if saline water is not removed from these ponds soon, wildlife and forest workers will face an acute crisis of drinking water.

Regarding this, Sundarbans west forest divisional forest conservator Abu Naser Md Mohsin told Prothom Alo high tide for two consecutive days submerged almost entire area of Sundarbans. It wouldn’t be possible to find out the actual tally of dead animals since high tide might wash way many animals to sea. Strong current has also caused erosion in many areas. He said, “We have been trying to remove saline water from the ponds.”

Regarding the overall situation, former chief forest conservator and former country director for Bangladesh of International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Ishtique Uddin Ahmed told Prothom Alo, “Cyclone Yaas and last year’s cyclone Amphan gave us a signal that not only strong wind is dangerous for Sundarbans but also extreme high tide is going to create danger for the forest. And actual account of how many animals have been washed away by such high tides couldn’t be found. So, plinths should be built inside Sundarbans to shelter animals during such high tide.”

This report appeared in the print and online edition of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten in English by Hasanul Banna