Oil War in the Sunderbans
Environmentalists termed the 2014 Sunderbans oil spill as an ‘ecological catastrophe’, hampering the well-being of various aquatic organisms in the area, as well as endangering several rare species including the Irrawaddy dolphins, Oriental small-clawed otters, Bengal tigers, rhesus macaques, leopards, great egrets, terrapins, crocodiles, kingfishers, chitals and horse-shoe crabs.
The news of an oil spill in the Sunderbans in December 2014 had stressed environmentalists and conservationists from India and Bangladesh deeply. An oil tanker collided with an empty cargo vessel on December 9, 2014, sinking in one of the rivers in Sunderbans and spilling about 350 tonnes of oil into the water. The accident happened in the Bangladesh part of the Sunderbans, in the canals of the Sela and Pashur rivers. This place is very close to the India border and, naturally, the oil has spread over into the Indian side of the Sunderban forest as well. Sunderbans, which spreads over 10,000 sq km, is the largest mangrove forest in the world. Spread across the coastal border of India and Bangladesh, it is protected as a forest and wildlife hotspot on both sides of the border. Sunderban, which literary means ‘beautiful forest’ in Bengali, is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The oil spill has endangered the wildlife of the forest which includes some of the rarest flora and fauna in the world. Immediate risk is obviously to the aquatic life. While several communities and predators which depend on fish will be affected, the extremely rare and endangered Irrawady dolphin will also find it tough to deal with the polluted water. The forest supports a healthy population of tigers, which have adapted to an aquatic lifestyle here. Saltwater crocodiles are also at threat due to the oil spill. Winter months invite a wide diversity of migrating birds to Sunderbans, again most of which are aquatic in behaviour.
Bangladesh had launched an intensified manual campaign to clean up seepage. Officials and witnesses said the forest department engaged nearly 100 boats to collect the furnace oil spilled from the tanker. On the Indian side, both Border Security Force and the Indian Coast Guard have joined hands with the West Bengal Forest Department to monitor the effects of the oil spill and work out strategies to help the affected animals. The Kolkata Port Trust was also constantly in touch with the Mongla Port in Bangladesh to intensify patrolling efforts.
Cover Photo: Taken a week after the oil spill incident in Sunderbans, the black line of shame is printed on the trees on the bank of the Salagang. Experts fear that these trees might die if the thick oil stays on them for an extended period. | Photo: Reza Shahriar Rahman
This article was originally published in January 2015 issue of Saevus Magazine
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