Environment officers of different government agencies on Sunday warned that after years of unchecked pollution and excessive tourism, St. Martin's, the country’s sole coral island on the Bay of Bengal renowned for its beauty and tranquility, has lost all its splendour.
They offered this bleak perspective in remarks at a seminar held at the Cox’s Bazaar district Circuit House on the unique ecosystem, and possibilities of ecological preservation of St Martin’s.
As the chief guest of the programme, Dr Sultan Ahmed, director of the Department of Environment said, “St. Martin's has become like Dhaka’s Farmgate and Gulistan. No birds are visible in St. Martin's now, except crows which indicates excessive presence of waste.”
If the current rate of exploitation due to tourism and unfettered construction continues, surely it will “not take long” for the island to sink, Dr Sultan said.
Director of Environment Department (Planning), Muhammad Soleman Haidar in his research paper said “It took hundreds of years for the island to assume its unique form and ecosystem that contains rare animals including 153 species of sea algae, 157 species of marine plants, 66 species of corals, etc.”
Some 10,000 tourists per day along with its 8,000 permanent residents are taking a huge toll on the island, speakers said.
“The island can sustain no more than two to five thousand people, with proper environmental management the island still can be saved,” Haidar added.
There was a consensus that the time has come for some drastic measures to be taken if the government is serious about saving the island. Numerous measures in the past have all gone to waste.
Chairman of the Cox’s Bazar Development Authority Forkan Ahmed noted that the island had been declared an Ecologically Critical Area as far back as 1999. In 2009 a masterplan to save the island was taken up.
“Despite all efforts, the failure to protect St Martin’s must also be borne by the government. Now the imperative must be to leave aside all considerations and take some legally binding steps if we are to save it,” he appealed.
Dipak Sharma Deepu, president of Cox’s Bazar Forest and Environment Preservation Council, proposed a ban on tourism to St Martin’s for three years, during which it would come under government control and a tourism policy as well as one on construction would be framed before its doors open again.
Additional Deputy Commissioner of Education and ICT (ADC) Ashraf Hossain presided over the programme.