Sunderbans ecosystem at stake

Sadiqur Rahman | Updated at 12:12am on June 05, 2018


A file photo of Sunderbans . Sony Ramany

Unplanned industrialisation at Mongla and Rampal in Bagerhat is having disastrous impacts on the habitats and food cycle of the Sunderbans’ flora and fauna in Bangladesh, a recently published study finds.
The world’s largest mangrove forest’s ecosystem will collapse if the authorities concerned fail to enforce environmental laws against indiscriminate industrialisation surrounding the ecologically critical area, it warns.
The study, conducted during July 2015 and June 2017, finds poor presence of phytoplankton, zooplankton and benthos, three primary producers of wildlife’s food chain, due to pollution in the Sunderbans’ water, soil and air.
Occurrence of matured plant and animal species is dwindling significantly surrounding the industrial plots the government distributed among 200 projects, including the controversial Rampal Coal-Fired Power Plant, it says.
In the past few years, the government allowed different types of industries like coal-based power plan, cement, liquefied petroleum gas factories, and large infrastructures like grain silo within 10 to 15 km periphery of the Sunderbans.
For a comparative study, a seven-member research team, led by Khulna University’s environmental science discipline professor Abdullah Harun Chowdhury, conducted the research in and around the Sunderbans, including Gharial, Jarshing, Kalagachia and the River Passur and connecting canals.
During the study period, 14 to 20 fish species were recorded in the industrialised areas while 27 to 33 fish species were recorded where industrial effluent still did not reach.
In the polluted areas, the team measured only 1700-2400 eggs and hatchlings of commercially valuable fishes like Parshe, Khorsula and Bagda shrimp in per litre of water whereas they found 6,300 to 8,700 eggs and hatchlings of the same species in the non-industrial areas.
The study cited previous count of 2011 when 6,800 to 9,600 eggs and hatchlings of these fishes were recorded in per litre of the now polluted water.
Mud-skippers, mud crabs, frogs, snakes, monitor lizards, otter, fishing cat and others were also found declining in the intertidal zones of industrialised areas.
The study says that regeneration of Sundari trees, population and habitats of intertidal zone birds, including the worldwide endangered bird Masked Finfoot, common birds, dolphins, crocodile, deer, wild boar and tigers have been affected by the development of the industrial projects.
Due to continuous changes in the quality of air, water and soil by industrialisation, only three Royal Bengal Tigers’ pug-marks were observed in the industrialised sites of the forest, the study mentions while citing that 12 tigers’ pug-marks were recorded in the same study area before 2010.
The study, saying that more than 10 mg per litre of oil in aquatic habitat is lethal for the aquatic lives, finds 15 mg per litre of oil in the water of the River Passur and connecting canals near the industrialised areas.
The study also measured increased volumes of suspended particulate maters in the waters as well as nitrogen dioxide and sulphur dioxide in the air and soil of industrialised areas, indicating that the forest areas are being polluted by the industrial effluents.
Professor Harun told New Age that wildlife migration from the industrialised zone was evident and observed that occurrence of major pollinators including the Sunderbans honey bees dwindled surrounding the industrialised areas due to pollution.
He blames shipment of raw materials and construction materials for the ongoing industrial projects through the Sunderbans waterways for the intensified pollution.
Harun warns that total ecosystem of the Sunderbans will be at stake if the authorities concerned failed to check indiscriminate industrialisation surrounding the forests.
He stressed strict enforcement of the environment laws, with total disregard for the influence of political elites behind the indiscriminate industrialisation surrounding the Sunderbans to save the forests.
Mahmudul Hasan, divisional forest officer of the Sunderbans’ east zone where various industries are mushrooming now, when approached for his comment, declined to say anything about industrial pollution.
He rather referred to the Department of Environment office.
DoE additional director general Quazi Sarwar Imtiaz Hashmi admitted that political influence was a big challenge.
He said the environment department would take necessary actions in conserving the environment of the ecologically critical area if the government gave any directives in this regard.