St Martin’s Island under threat: No tourism by destroying environment

St. Martin's Island
Prothom Alo file photo

The island that could be the symbol of our tradition and pride is going to be extinct because of negligence and a lack of sincerity among people concerned. Environmentalists have long been expressing concern over the environment of St Martin’s Island and objecting to the setup of such structures that damages its environment. Following the objection from various quarters, the environment, forest and climate change ministry issued some instructions, though no consensus came on it.

According to a Prothom Alo report, the environment, forest and climate change ministry wants to restrict the movements of tourists on the island while the tourism ministry wants the number of tourists does not drop. Currently, 7-10 thousand tourists visit the island daily during the tourism season. This was disclosed at an inter-ministerial meeting of these two ministries on Sunday and the meeting ended without reaching a consensus. Previously, two meetings were. A draft is yet to be finalised.

In 1999, the forest department declared the country lone coral reef island St Martin’s Island as Ecologically Critical Area (ECA) in a bid to protect its biodiversity. The environment ministry on 4 January 2021 declared an area of 1,743-sq km adjacent to St Martin’s Island in the Bay of Bengal as the marine protected area in light with the Wildlife (Conservation and Security) Act.

How can illegal structures be erected on an island that has been declared ecologically critical? The environment department has spoken about restricting movement of tourists on the island at various times but that is not being implemented. This time, the draft instructions have mentioned various initiatives including online registration prior to visiting the island, stopping registration after a certain number and banning tourist’s night stay at the island.

No heavy structure can be built on St Martin’s Island to protect biodiversity and environment of the island. And there is no answer to the question on how nearly 150 hotels and restaurants were built there defying the law. And the government ministries and agencies are blaming each other for it. Not only hotel and restaurants have been built on St Martin’s Island illegally but also various government agencies open offices only to hold meetings.

There is no meaning on debating on who is responsible – ministry or district administration – to oversee the matter. Tourists visit St Martin’s Island because of its natural beauty and they will no longer visit here once the island will lose its beauty. So, we must be careful that we do not destroy the lone coral island of the country to expand tourism.

All illegal structures must be demolished to save St Martin’s Island and movement of tourists must be restricted. In addition to government agencies, tourists also have a role to play to protect the environment. A tourist can throw a chips packet or plastic waste here and there. If request does not work, punishment has to be given. St Martin’s Island must be saved before everything else. We are saying that there is no necessity of tourism, but that tourism will be maintained by protecting St Martin’s Island and its environment and biodiversity. And it is better the ministries concerned reach a consensus on this issue as soon as possible.