Cargo vessels operated by both Bangladesh and India through Roymangal-Angtihara-Bojbuja river route in the Sundarbans pose a great threat to the biodiversity and ecosystem of the world’s largest mangrove forest due to their rampant release of wastes and ear-deafening sirens.
Researchers warn if the 140-km river route remains open to movement of water vessels, accidents like the Dec-9 oil tanker crash may happen any time, which may invite further environmental disaster to the Sundarbans.
As water vessels have long been plying the river route causing huge noise pollution, the wildlife of the areas has already moved deeper into the Sundarbans, said Prof Abdullah Harun, a teacher of the Environmental Science Faculty at Khulna University.
For lack of proper monitoring, Prof Harun said, the ships, which ply through the Sundarbans’ river route, discharge wastes into the water regularly polluting the forest environment.
“While the destruction of forests is going on across the country, the Sundarbans has been the last shelter for wild animals,” he said adding, “The habitats of wild animals are being destroyed through unusual human activities and disturbance. So, the animals are shifting their habitats.”
M Sarwar Hossain, assistant revenue officer of Angtihara Land Customs check post, said 15 ships ply through the Roymangal-Angtihara-Bojbuja river route on average every day.
Abu Bakar, a sexagenarian who has been living in the forest since his birth, has been a great witness to all this destruction.
Bakar recalls: “Once deer, Bengal tigers and other wild animals used to be seen here and there…even deer used to come down the localities during high tides. No deer and tiger are seen these days due to the movement of vessels on the river route.”
Environmentalists said ships have been carrying goods through the route from Hemnagar Port of Kolkata to Mongla seaport since Bangladesh’s independence, and the 140-km river route is casting adverse impacts on the Sundarbans.
Heavy engine-run ships and their ear-deafening sirens are posing a serious threat to the biodiversity and environment of the Sundarbans, they said.
Prof Abdullah Harun suggested imposing an immediate ban on water vessel movement on the Roymangal-Angtihara-Bojbuja river route to save the Sundarbans.
Echoing Prof Harun, Prof Monirul H Khan of the Department of Zoology at Jahangrinagar University said a guideline should be there in place for plying waster vessels through the Sundarbans river route so that they cannot pollute the forest.
Zahair Uddin Ahmed, divisional forest officer of the Sundarbans (West Zone), said the accident in Shela River is a wake-up call for the authorities to put things in order and thus save the mangrove forest.
On December 9, a tanker carrying more than 350,000 litres of furnace oil sank in the Shela River, a home to rare Ganges Dolphins and Irrawaddy Dolphins, in the Sundarbans threatening the wildlife in the UNESCO World Heritage site.
The oil had spread over 100 sq km inside the delicate mangrove forest area. At least 20 canals and a major river, Pashur, are connected with the Shela River.