St Martin's Island must be saved

Ainun Nishat

Alongside protecting human rights, it is our national duty to protect the environment, nature, forests and wetlands. This article was included in the country’s constitution in 2011.

The concerned article states, “The State shall endeavour to protect and improve the environment and to preserve and safeguard the natural resources, bio-diversity, wetlands, forests and wild life for the present and future citizens.”

Saint Martin’s, on the coast of Cox’s Bazar, is one of the country’s most enriched and uniquely biodiverse area.

The environment, forests and climate change ministry along with the environment department is working on this issue. This is obviously a positive aspect.

Vehicles move on the beach of Saint Martin's island, killing crabs under their wheels.
Jewel Shill

But at the same time, it is frustrating that the other ministries and departments aren’t playing any such role to protect the island.

Rather it can be said that many are supportive of the widespread destruction of the island that has been going on at the initiative of local influential people.

While many call Saint Martin a coral island it’s actually a stony island with layers of coral on the top.  Another island, which hasn’t been named yet, is forming on the west, where sea shells known as cowrie are found in profusion.

Those colourful shells were once used currency in the Bengal region. Sea horses can still be found at Cheera Dwip sometimes.

If necessary, structures that are destroying the island’s natural resources have to be removed by exercising power. The island has to be saved.

One of the world’s rarest and endangered species, the olive green turtle lay eggs here. The flora and fauna, including the Keya forest, are vital resources not only for Bangladesh but also for the world.

I’m in no way against tourism or nature-based entertainment. But we have to keep in mind, no way more than 900 tourists should be allowed on an island of this sort a day, that too on a limited scale and controlled manner. Tourists in no way should be allowed to spend the night there.

Even the top level of the government has given repeated instructions on this. But in reality we saw about 250 hotels-resorts have been set up there violating government’s ecologically critical area (ECA) regulations.

These establishments are owned by local political leaders and influential companies and individuals. And because of this, those supposed to protect that island are left powerless to play a role thee.

Marine park, east sea beach.
Jewel Shill

Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman had made a law to protect the country’s biodiversity back in 1972. Bangladesh has signed United Nations’ Convention of Biological Diversity as well.

Plus, Saint Martin’s island has been announced as an ecologically critical area in government’s environment conservation act. So the government should have taken strict measures to protect the island, showing respect to the law and international commitment.

If necessary, structures that are destroying the island’s natural resources have to be removed by exercising power. The island has to be saved.

About 5,000 people live on the island. They have to be relocated somewhere else. We have sheltered about 1.2 million (12 lakh) Rohingyas.

Then why can’t we relocate 5,000 local people to save Saint Martin’s Island? This way, the island can be saved from the risks caused by human habitation.

* Ainun Nishat is professor emeritus, BRAC University

* This report was published in the online and print versions of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten in English by Nourin Ahmed Monisha.