Govt to Limit St. Martin's Visitors
Monday, 18 October 2010

Tourists may be banned from staying in St Martin's Island overnight.

In a bid to restrict visitors to protect the natural habitat of this coral island off the south-eastern tip of Bangladesh, the environment department has recommended that all tourist accommodation be relocated to Teknaf.

It also recommends that visitors should be allowed for only four months of the year, between November and February.

The environment ministry has already finalised a 25-point recommendation on proper management of the island.

"We will decide on the implementation of these decisions in an inter-ministerial meeting this month," environment secretary Mihir Kanti Majumdar told bdnews24.

"As a primary step, movement of ships and tourists will be restricted," he said.

St Martin's is 10 kilometers northwest of Teknaf. The 590-hectare island is about 8 kilometres long and has a population of more than 7,500. The department of environment has identified 325 land and 650 marine species that take this island as their native habitat. According to official data, more than 1500 tourists visit the island every day.

Experts say that in recent years the island has been facing a host of problems caused by excessive tourists, uncontrolled development of hotels and motels, water pollution by oil spills from ships, destruction of jungles and sand dunes, and extraction of ground water.

Effluent from ships and tourists are seriously hampering the environmental balance, a joint report by the audit department and environmentalists submitted in the parliament last year said.

Mohammad Jafar Siddique, director of Coastal and Wetland Biodiversity Management Project (CWBMP) under the environment department of environment told, "The number of tourists visiting the island should be limited to between 500 and 800 under the ministry's National Conservation Strategy."

"The number of ships going to and from the island should also be lowered."

Jafar, also a professor of Chittagong University's Institute of Marine Sciences told bdnews24, "The island's sweet water reserve is only 12 feet below the surface and is about to dry up because of excessive use. Soon, only salt water will be coming up the pumps."

Joint secretary Nasiruddin Ahmed expressed the government's concerns about conservation of the environment.

"The government has passed several laws to enforce environment conservation in the sixth session of the parliament and it is actively implementing the laws," he said.

"To protect the biodiversity and environment of the island the government has declared the island an Ecologically Critical Area," tourism secretary Shafique Alam Mehedi told bdnews24," adding, "We want to preserve St Martin's ecology in order to sustain its precious value as a tourist destination."

In the face of rising environmental threats, the government has decided to limit tourist access along with some other measures.

Recommendations also include taking control of the two lagoons and one mangrove area totalling 300 acres. In addition, selling land to migrants must be halted; illegal constructions and structures have to be demolished; and lifting ground water should be stopped.

The environment department recommends that activities restricted under the Environment Act such as collecting corals, destroying dunes, lighting fires on the beach, endangering sea turtles and dolphins and stone extraction must be stopped.


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