A massive oil spill in the ecologically sensitive Sundarbans delta has put many of the region’s fauna at severe risk.
Early Tuesday morning, a tanker carrying 3,50,000 litres of oil sank in the Sundarban’s Shela river in Bangladesh, spilling its contents into the river. Pradeep Vyas, Director of the Sundarbans Biosphere Reserve, said that although the wreckage has been removed, the damage may already be done given the intricate network of the various rivers of the Sundarbans.
“As of now, there isn’t any impact that’s been noted on the Indian side of the Sundarbans,” Vyas said, “but since it’s a single ecosystem, it’s only a matter of time and we’re closely monitoring the situation. We’ve heard that Bangladeshi authorities have been working to control the spread of the oil by creating barriers with fish nets and ropes. Experts are also visiting the area to assess the situation and suggest measures.”
The oil spill wasn’t entirely unexpected, Vyas added, saying that this situation had been anticipated about six years ago. He said, “Trade routes used to pass through the Sundarbans Tiger Reserve. We approached government authorities who conducted a feasibility survey. Eventually, about four years ago, they diverted the route to minimise destructive impact. Now, the route goes along the periphery. Bangladesh still has ports within the Sundarbans forests, which continues to impact the biosphere.”
The Sundarbans Islands contain the world’s largest unbroken mangrove forest, covering about 10,000 sq km across India and Bangladesh. The resultant oil spill has threatened the likes of the Ganges river dolphin, India’s national aquatic animal that is listed as endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). The Sundarbans, a UNESCO-listed World Heritage Site, is also home to globally endangered species such as the rare Irrawady dolphins, the Royal Bengal tiger (India’s national animal), the endemic river terrapin, the olive ridley turtle, the saltwater crocodile and the horseshoe crab, known as a living fossil as it has been dated to 400 million years ago.
Here are 10 species at risk from this terrible disaster. We had spotlighted the Sundarbans Tiger Reserve in our January issue, and included the reserve in our feature on India’s most gorgeous national parks.
(Source: NatGeo National Geographic Traveller India, Photo Credit: Dhritiman Mukherjee. To see the elusive Royal Bengal tiger, you’ll have to be perched on a watchtower deep inside in the jungle)