ST MARTIN’S Island, the only coral island of Bangladesh, stands to be depleted of coral as the species are disappearing fast. An estimate of the International Centre for Ocean Governance says that the island had 141 coral species in 1980, but the figure came down to 127 in 1990 and to 65 in 1997. An estimate based on the rate of disappearance of coral species suggests that the number of species could come down to 24 by 2030 and they could completely disappear by 2045. Government officials also say, as New Age reported on Friday, that the island, which once had 142 species of marine algae, 157 species of aquatic plants, 157–191 species of snails, 240 species of fish, 120 species of birds, 4 amphibious species and 29 serpentine species, has lost many of the species over time. The degradation in the ecology and biodiversity is put down to the negligence of the authorities concerned and a largely unmanaged tourism that started gaining momentum in the 1980s, especially after its publicity in films and through the media. The number of hotels on the island, now home to 10,000 people, grew from two, with single storey that time, to more than 150, many with multiple storeys, now.

The growth in the number of hotels, to cater to a growing number of tourists, now averaging more than 4,000 daily for an overnight stay, speaks of failures of the environment department, which is to issue clearance for such construction on the island, which was declared an ecologically critical area in 1999, when there were about a dozen hotels there. The St Martin’s Island union chair says that but for 18 small structures, the construction of all other hotels has been in a breach of relevant laws. This suggests that the government has failed to take any pragmatic steps in the management and conservation of the island. The government could not also execute its plan to keep the number of tourists on the island below 1,250 each day. An environment department director says that there has been a set of 14 restrictions, along with some other measures, in force for the protection of the island and its biodiversity. The Coast Guard says that the agency has been asked only to check loud sound, lighting and travel to an adjoining island of Chera Dwip, which is uninhabited and separated at high tide, by vehicle but not to contain the number of tourists and to stop the erection of illegal structures.

The island which is not only the single coral island, rich in biodiversity, of the country but also a property of the future generation must not be unfairly treated beyond reparations. The government must, therefore, discipline the management of tourism of St Martin’s Island within the scope of the island’s withstanding capacity by restricting detrimental development and the daily presence of the number of tourists on the island. The government must also stop all other plans and activities that harm the ecology and biodiversity of the place and take up schemes that could replenish what has so far been unfortunately lost.

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