Wednesday, February 4, 2009


We visited St. Martin's island for the last 2 days, which is 12 kilometers off the tip of the Teknaf Peninsula in the Bay of Bengal. We traveled down the Naf River, which forms the border with Burma and landed after a 3 hours ride. This is Bangladesh's one coral island. There is little or no tourism management.

Four boats a day carrying some 320 passengers or more visit the island, mostly with day visitors. St.Martin's was not a tourism destination until recently, and it is experiencing a sudden boom.

We met with Oceanic Diving, as I prefer to get my information on the status of coral reefs from divers who have spent their lives on the reef day after day. The owner, pictured above, is a professional diver who has been diving in St. Martin's since 1987. He runs his commercial tourist dive operations at a loss on the island, because he wants to educate Bengalis about the importance of preserving their one and only coral reef.

There is no waste management on the island, and according to my sources, all of the waste left behind by visitors is dumped into the ocean. This leads to an untold amount of waste landing on their precious coral reef.

Oceanic Diving had just completed a reef clean up activity, where they invited divers to come for free from throughout Bangladesh if they would take bags underwater and pick up waste off the reef. They had some 20 divers come and were successful in collecting bags and bags of waste.

Bangladesh is still a poor country, but its population density, and inexperience with tourism has created rapidly growing pressures on its most popular destinations, and there is little or no expertise here on the management of tourism. Sometimes the odds almost seem too high to save destinations like St. Martins. Oceanic Divers said they have no natural allies on the island who are helping with their efforts to preserve the reef.

This is not entirely true as there is a very active community-based conservation guard program which has arrested all sea turtle egg harvesting on the island, a significant accomplishment. But the rapacious harvest of mollucks, shells and coral continues with little controls, apparently guided by middle men who pay the poor islanders to collect the beautiful underwater shells for souvenirs that can be seen throughout the peninsula. Local people are terribly poor, and receiving no benefits from tourism. Our project can certainly begin the process of linking the islanders to the tourism supply chain via training.

One area we will work on is guide training. On a visit to a small coral island yesterday, I met a young man who was the most natural guide I have met in a while. He showed me the trees, flowers, fruits, and all of the various sea life that had washed ashore. It is my hope he will be the future of tourism on St. Martins.

1 comment:

  1. no governmental department of environmental regulations to establish rules about harvesting of live shells, etc? is the turtle conservation effort grass roots or government initiated?


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