St. Martin’s Island is feared to be Coral-less by 2045
By Adnan Mahfuz
Coral is declining day by day in St. Martin, the only coral island of Bangladesh. The tree-covered area of the island is also reducing. In contrast, the number of tourists is increasing. New hotels and infrastructure are being built for their accommodation.
The island’s permanent population is also increasing, putting pressure on the island’s biodiversity. All in all, the unique natural features of St. Martin are being ruined.
A study by two teachers and a student at the University of Dhaka has revealed this picture of St. Martin’s plight. The teachers and students who conducted the study are Kauser Ahmed, a professor at the Department of Oceanography, Yusuf Gazi, lecturer in the Department of Geology, and Tahrima Jannat, a former student in the Department of Oceanography.
To give an example, not even one-third of the island’s land was covered with coral four decades ago. Coral is a type of marine invertebrate. Due to the hardness of the outer covering, it is often mistaken for stone. A coral is made up of several tiny creatures called polyps.
One of the authors of the research article, Yusuf Ghazi, said to a Bangladeshi national daily newspaper, “If the necessary measures are not taken, St. Martin’s Island will be completely coral-free by 2045.” We may not even be able to talk about St. Martin, the only coral island in the country.
Coral can only be found in museums. ‘
The study of St. Martin was published in the September 9, as an issue of the International Journal of Ocean Science.
The author of the research article titled ‘Identifying the Coral Destruction of St. Martin’s Island in the Bay of Bengal using geospatial technology’.
St. Martin is a small island in the sea, 120 km from Cox’s Bazar district town. Administratively, the island is a union territory of Teknaf Upazila in Cox’s Bazar. There are nine villages in this union. According to official data, the area of the island is 13 square kilometers.
However, the study said 8 square kilometers. Nur Ahmed, chairman of St. Martin’s Union Parishad (UP), told Prothom Alo, a Bangladeshi national daily, on his mobile phone yesterday afternoon that there had been erosion around the island.
The size of the island has also decreased over the years due to corrosion. Protective measures urgently need to protect the island from sea erosion.
He said there is no government initiative to protect the corals and algae of the island. However, they have been working to stop coral extraction and smuggling locally for two years. Apart from this, there is no government allocation and measure to remove the amount of waste left by tourists. These wastes fall into the sea.
Every year from September-October to March-April, tourists visit the island. According to the study, less than 200 tourists a year visited St. Martin during 1996-1997. Now go more than one and a half lakh. During the same period (‘ 96–97), there was a population of 3,700, which in 2016 exceeded 8,000. In 2012, there were 17 hotels in St. Martin. In 2018, it stood at 48.
However, according to local estimates, there are now 124 hotels, motels, and cottages in St. Martin. The population is about 9,760. However, during the tourist season, an additional two and a half thousand people stay in St. Martin for a few months to manage hotels, motels, and cottages.
To understand the comparative picture of St. Martin, the researchers analyzed images taken from satellites. The pictures are from 1980 to 2018. Besides, field research is done.
It can be seen that in 38 years, the coral cover on the island has decreased from 1.32 sq. km to 0.39 sq. km. The number of coral species has come down from 141 to 40. The tree-covered area has been reduced from 4.5 sq. km to 3 sq. km.
The study identified several human-made causes of environmental pollution and biodiversity loss in St. Martin. These include uncontrolled tourism, poor waste management of residential hotels, dumping of tourist materials in seawater, rock extraction, coral extraction, and widespread use of fishing nets in coastal areas.
Researchers also say that fishermen’s nets are destroying new corals in St. Martin. Fishers cast their nets about 500 to 1,000 meters from the shore around the island, where most corals are born.
Researchers say that the regulators of coral growth on oceanic islands are the water temperature, the amount of salt in the water, the amount of sand, the acidity of the water, the intensity of the waves, the dissolved oxygen, and so on. However, the principal regulator is oxygen.
Gradually the natural balance of these regulators is being disturbed. There are also some genuine reasons for this. Rising sea levels around the island, climate change, and chemical changes in seawater are some of them.
When asked to AKM Rafiq Ahmed, the Director-General of DOE, what the Department of the Environment (DoE), Bangladesh is doing to protect St. Maarten’s environment and biodiversity.
He replied to Prothom Alo: “We have recommended more stringent measures to control tourists on St. Maarten Island.”
Before the study by teachers at the University of Dhaka, a similar picture emerged in multiple studies by the University of Chittagong, the Department of the Environment, and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
Those studies recommend controlling the flow of tourists there on an emergency basis to protect the island. But it didn’t work out.
Humayun Akhtar, Professor of Geology, University of Dhaka, said in the Prothomalo that St. Martin’s Island is unique in the world in terms of biodiversity.
Corals are born there because of the clear water. Unauthorized tourists have polluted the water. Considering St. Martin as a national treasure, initiatives need to be taken to preserve it.