Why they are building a paved road over the sand dunes, then? It was a question asked by many students with whom I was traveling to Marisbunia; a small locality near the southern tip of mainland Bangladesh. The question came in their mind, I guess, because earlier on that day they saw how sand dunes protect the coastline and secure the land behind from salt water. And probably the answer is; the planners behind the Inani-Teknaf Marine Drive never had a first-hand experience about these sand barriers which works as a buffer against wave damage.
If the purpose of this Marine Drive is to attract tourist to our 'Longest Unbroken Beach' in the world, then it has been designed to be doomed. This road is starting the process of breaking the beach in pieces. The road is being constructed by destroying dunes and vegetation, which will eventually face erosion risk. Already a large portion of Marine Drive near Himchori is threatened by erosion. The planners are apparently just unaware that, dunes act as a reservoir of sand to replenish and maintain the beach at times of erosion.
Our planners typically got the classroom-lessons without very little experience on the ground and they are now risking it all; nature, coastal life and livelihoods. In this context, it's a good sign that interest in field work is gradually increasing among the bosses of our academia. Policy makers, planners and practitioners need hands-on learning process while preparing themselves in the academy.
I believe, for the students who study in disciplines related to natural or social ecosystems, textbooks or lectures are just the tip of the iceberg, rather they need to find themselves in the very environment they are trying to 'learn' in the classroom.
Students who study natural and social ecosystems need to find themselves in the very environment they are trying to 'learn' in the classroom. Photo: Minhaj Takim
The group of graduating students came here this week as part of their 'Coastal Zone Management' course from North South University. Twenty six students, two of their faculty members and me; we tried to run an unlearning process, not a 'study tour', or a typical 'field visit'. They spotted coastal Geo-physical features and process, and talked to people from the locality. It was not like visiting the 'field' to put their classroom lessons to good use, rather it was the opposite, exploring the social and natural ecosystems to prepare classroom lessons for the future.
I guess, they loved the experience. People protect what they love. If the future generation of our planners can relate themselves with the natural systems, we won’t have to see a paved road on the beach.
What happens generally with text based and classroom dominated approach is; young mind learns to locate only 'resources' in our natural and social systems to use. As long as we consider something as only ‘resource’ and try to find diverse way to ‘use’, the risk of abuse come along as total package. In these times of sea level rise and extreme weather events we need to rethink about this resource-use paradigm, we need to relate ourselves with the Ocean and explore the relationship on the ground.
The writer is a Journalist and Marine Conservationist based in Chittagong, he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org