Endangered Saint Martin’s: Why this arrangement to kill the island

There should be planned arrangements so that a particular number of tourists visit the island every day and they do not stay at night there

District and upazila administration, and other government agencies, people involved with hotel, resort, ship and trawler business and tourists pushing the only coral-rich island of Bangladesh, Saint Martin's, to its end. The situation reminds us the folk tale about the greedy farmer who had a duck that used to lay gold eggs. But there are laws, regulations, directives, administration, environment department and police to protect the Saint Martin’s island.

As Prothom Alo reports, being an Environmentally Critical Area (ECA) listed by the Department of Environment, anything that may damage the water, soil, air or animals of St. Martin’s is prohibited there. For this reason, the environment department does not issue permission for the construction of any establishment there. However, there are more than 230 hotels, resorts, cottages and restaurants, among those many are multi-storey. At least 130 of those have been constructed in the past two years. More than 30 resorts and cottages are now under construction.

The saddest part is, the government agencies have also constructed bungalows, officers' mess and other structures on the island without taking permission. The government and police officials stay while travelling in the establishment that the district administration and police have made. The one built by police is also rented. If the district administration and the police who are vested with the responsibility of taking care of the island are flouting the law and regulations like this, we can assume what others are doing.

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Various studies at home and abroad has anticipated the extent of the damage of the island due to unrestrained tourism. In the 38 years from 1980 to 2018, St. Martin's coral species declined from 141 to 40. The area covered by trees has reduced from four-and-a-half square kilometers to three square kilometers. A research article published in 2020 in the International Ocean Science Journal warned that the island would be depleted of coral by 2045.

Although prohibited, influential political leaders, individuals and institutions keep purchasing lands for construction on the island. They are so reckless that they are destroying the Keya Forest that protects the island to build hotels and resorts. Tourists are prohibited from traveling to the three-square kilometer area from Galachipa to Diarmatha on the island as turtles lay eggs. But more than 30 two-storied resorts and cottages are being constructed there.

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The district and the upazila administrations are responsible for preventing the construction of any illegal establishment on St. Martin’s Island and the DoE is responsible for protecting the island as an ecologically critical area. Yet, construction materials are brought to the island in front of everyone. Construction progresses, hotel and resort open, tourists visit, and business booms, yet no one prevents it. Rather, they shrug off their responsibility by putting the blame on somebody else.

Environmentalists have cautioned for years that unplanned tourism must be reined in to protect the island. There should be planned arrangements so that a particular number of tourists visit the island every day and they do not stay at night there. Public and private structures built in St. Martin’s without the clearance of environment department are illegal. All of these must be demolished. An environment must be created so that a new Keya forest can grow and thrive. The local people must be evacuated and resettled elsewhere.

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The island cannot be protected by recognising it as ecologically endangered area on paper only. It is not possible for anyone to create another St. Martin’s Island. It requires high level of political will and government intervention to save the ecologically endangered island from the greedy and irresponsible quarters.

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