I have been observing Saint Martin’s island for long. When I was the country representative of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), I carried out research on the island. It was then first proved that this was not made of coral, but of rocks.
Saint Martin’s is an extension of Maheskhali. Coral and marine grasses have gathered here in profusion. Very few islands in this world have such a unique characteristic. All sorts of fish gather where there is thick growth of marine grass. There are all sorts of colourful fishes here, as well as seahorses.
The island is ideal for tourism. There is scope for scuba diving here, too. But there has been no tourism properly planned in keeping with the capacity of the island. A few thousand fishermen and their families have been living on this island from beforehand. And now every day thousands of tourists arrive on its shores.
The tourists stay overnight. The island is lit up all night by the lights of the numerous hotels there. These hotels are extracting groundwater in large volumes. This should not be allowed. The island was been swamped in plastic and polythene.
Tourists must be barred from spending the night on the island. In the morning, at the most 300 to 500 tourists can be allowed. They can roam around only specific areas of the island till the evening. Guides will instruct them on the dos and don’ts.
The inhabitants of the island can be relocated to a different settlement in Cox’s Bazar. There is no other way that this unique island can be saved. The environment department has also recommended this to the government.
There is no fresh water source on the island. Rainwater gathers in a water body located on the island and this is absorbed by the ground. But the hotels soon extract this groundwater and it will be depleted in no time. The groundwater will become saline. The island’s natural characteristics will be ruined.
The olive green sea turtle found on Saint Martin’s is on the verge of extinction globally. Bangladesh has signed an international agreement to save these. This island is the best place for these turtles to lay their eggs and breed. But tourism is threating their lifestyle. Stray dogs are eating the eggs. These dogs must be removed.
Bangladesh exports large volumes of shrimps to the US. The US does not import seafood from countries which fail to protect sea turtles. It will stop importing shrimps from Bangladesh if there is evidence that the country is failing to protect these turtles.
We are sending Saint Martin’s to its death. The tourism ministry’s onslaught must be halted. It cannot be allowed to destroy the island just for a random amount of revenue.
*Ainun Nishat is Emeritus Professor, BRAC University and an authority on water resources and climate change