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Disaster in the Sundarbans

By Martin Fowlie, 18 Dec 2014

A tanker and another vessel have collided, spilling more than 350,000 litres of oil into the waters of the Sundarban tidal mangrove forests in Bangladesh.

Credit: Helal Sujon

"It is hard to separate emotions from the facts when a member of your family dies. A part of you dies with them. Dealing with the oil spill in the Sundarbans is no less than this -- a wound that time may not heal." 

Sayam Chowdhury is the Principal Investigator of the Sundarbans Finfoot Research Project and knows this amazing part of Bangladesh well.

The Sundarbans is the largest delta covered with mangrove forests and vast saline mud flats in the world. It contains large swaths of protected areas that host a diverse wildlife, including Bengal Tiger, river dolphins as well as threatened birds such as Masked Finfoot.

“The oil is entering the narrow creeks and accumulating along the banks where Masked Finfoot and other waterbirds forage. If the crabs and small fish are dying then it is very likely that finfoot will be the next, as those are their main food items”, said Sayam Chowdhury,

Credit: Helal Sujon

“Also, if the birds are covered in oil and it gets into their eyes, they are less likely to escape predation, their body temperatures may drop, they may not be able to hunt, and will likely starve to death. This is true for more than 100 species of waterbirds, including 8 species of kingfishers and at least 10 species of birds of prey. Only the short-term possible effects are listed here. The long-term impact of this spill on the bird life of the Sundarbans is unimaginable.”

The oil spill clean up is almost wholly dependent on locals in the area, and whio have no equipment, training, or protection. 

Credit: Helal Sujon

The Sundarbans, which extends across southern Bangladesh and into India, is home to around four million people, most of whom make their living directly from the great forest and it's labyrinthine waterways.