Bangladesh declares marine protected area spanning 1,743 sq km

by IANS |

Dhaka, Jan 12 (IANS) The government of Bangladesh has declared a new marine protected area (MPA) spanning 1,743 square kilometers (672 square miles) around Saint Martin's Island, a region which represents 1.5 per cent of the country's exclusive economic zone.

The productive waters around this tropical island teem with biodiversity and provide key habitat for Bangladesh's only coral reef, as well as upwards of 230 finfish species.

The new MPA will also protect globally threatened wildlife such as Indo-Pacific humpback dolphins, whale sharks, white-spotted whiprays, long-tailed butterfly rays, and olive ridley, green, and loggerhead turtles.

Also known as 'Coconut Island', Saint Martin's Island is a popular tourist destination and home to around 7,000 residents who depend on seasonal tourism and fishing.

Despite considerable efforts to mitigate the negative impacts of the area's booming tourism industry, over exploitation of corals and fisheries, along with uncontrolled waste and light pollution, have taken a heavy toll on marine biodiversity around the island.

Deputy Minister Habibun Nahar of the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change said: "The St. Martin's Island MPA, together with the existing Swatch-of-no-ground MPA and two other marine reserves declared by the Ministry of Fisheries and Livestock, brings Bangladesh one step closer towards achieving our national goal and international obligation under the Convention on Biodiversity and United Nations Sustainable Development Goals to protect 10 per cent of our marine waters."

Proposed regulations in the new MPA include establishing zones with different rules to regulate fishing and vessel traffic.

Said Amir Hossain Chowdhury, Chief Conservator of Forests: "To enforce and monitor compliance with MPA regulations, the Forest Department will prepare an integrated management plan where all stakeholders, including local fishermen, will be involved.

"We are also planning to conduct joint patrols with the Department of Fisheries, Coast Guard, Navy and local fishing communities to conserve the rich biodiversity of this MPA."

"Protecting the waters around Saint Martin's Island is critical to sustain fisheries and conserve globally threatened marine wildlife. It also provides an ideal opportunity to restore Bangladesh's only coral habitat," said Zahangir Alom, Country Representative of Wildlife Conservation Society Bangladesh (WCS).

Said Elisabeth Fahrni Mansur, Senior Manager of the WCS Marine Conservation Program: "Declaration of the Saint Martin's Island MPA is based on extensive at-sea investigations and community consultations conducted by the WCS. Recognizing the rapidly increasing and unsustainable fishing pressures and destruction of corals, local fishers we consulted expressed a strong willingness to comply with stricter regulations in the MPA to sustain productive fisheries in adjacent waters."

The WCS is committed to working with the government of Bangladesh and local communities to establish effective conservation management in the Saint Martin's MPA.

First steps are to develop a science-based, community-informed management plan, raise awareness about regulations in the MPA, build capacity for conducting government and community-led enforcement and monitoring patrols, controlling domestic waste, and begin restoring degraded corals.

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