Friday, February 6, 2009

Culture Clash

Yesterday our team traveled down the western coast of the Teknaf peninsula. There was no road past the Forest Station at Inani, thus our vehicles traveled on the enormous hard sand beach. Known as the largest unbroken beach in the world, it is vast, wide and populated with thousands of fishermen who are living a life that appears to be unchanged for centuries.

We were all moved in our own way, we had a group of biologists who were fascinated by the fish being netted, plopped on the beach and divided among villagers. Others were in awe of the traditional boats each unique in color and form, flying flags like an armada of medieval design. The beach itself was so vast, it was difficult to capture, but its scale and scope all convinced us that indeed it must be unique in all the world.

We had scientists, entrepreneurs, foresters, conservation biologists, and community members from the forest lands all converging, asking ourselves can we responsibly develop this beach and give the local community in the forest land and the fisherman a fair shake where there might not be an avalanche of development following the ecotourism project we decide to develop.

Ultimately, my plan will be presented with GIS maps showing the peninsula as it presently stands today. The map will show all of the types of protected land, of which there are numerous categories, the remaining forest patches, existing paths in the forest, the areas where existing tourism development lies now, much of which is not permitted, and where we propose creating a new ecological tourism zone with trails and ecologically built shelters with community trained and operated facilities and services.

When we were traveling this beach, we all knew, we knew that this beach is the world class resource that could bring tourists from around the world. But can we do it responsibly?

This morning, we passed through Cox's Bazar again. This tourism boom town does not augur well for our ability to manage growth. Every weekend buses come bursting with visitors all pouring out on the landscape. There is no zoning, master plan, or required Environmental Impact Statements. Small eco-establishments such as the Mermaid Restaurant are being forced out for the construction of roads and million dollar hotels.

The grandest of ecological plans are crushed in the wake of this tsunami of hotel development. It will move down the coast, and we have sought to see how to encourage more planning, but our words are little in the face of this emerging culture clash.

The traditional peoples living on the beach are continuing to live on as they have for generations without knowledge. We are on the front line and it is our job to help buffer the blow of this emerging confrontation between boom tourism and vast, world heritage class beach and its peoples.


  1. please don't let it turn into another Daytona Beach! one wishes for a high, strong chainlink fence to keep progress out.

  2. I absolutely love this picture. Those boats are so beautiful.


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