Massive, challenging, and overflowing with life - but we know very little about the Biggest Mangrove Forest in the world.
The Sundarbans consists of roughly 200 river islands divided by almost 400 interconnecting tidal rivers, canals, and creeks in Bangladesh's southwest coastal area.
According to statistics, around 1,80,000 tourists enjoy the UNESCO Natural World Heritage Site in addition to the Ramsar Region of worldwide importance, which is appreciated for its uniqueness and diversity of life.
To entice tourists, the forest department has decided to construct four new tourist sites in The Sundarbans for planned eco-tourism.
The new eco-tourism sites
The sites are being developed at roughly Tk 250 million in Alibandha of the Sharankhola range, Andharmanik of the Chandpai area of the East Sundarbans division, Sheikhertek as well as Kailashganj of the West Sundarbans division.
Samin Iram Khan, a third-year student from the Islamic University of Technology, visited The Sundarbans recently. He shared his experiences talking to one of the forest officers with this scribe.
According to the officer, the government is improving eco-tourism in the Sundarbans in the days ahead. The Sundarbans have seven eco-tourism sites - Karamjal, Herbaria, Katka, Kachikhali, Dublar Char, Hiron Point, and Kalagachhi. The Khulna Range's Sheikhertek features an old temple. However, many people cannot visit there despite their interest due to a lack of infrastructure.
However, they now feel the importance of extending the places, and four more eco-tourism sites are being developed. The continuing initiative to establish the centres has executed around 60 per cent of its work, with officials intending to finish by the end of this year.
Special features of the eco-tourism sites
The divisional forest officer of The East Sundarbans stated that as the number of eco-tourists rises, they want to construct a new gangway or jetty. They also intend to build watchtowers for tourists to see the unique features of the Sundarbans.
In 1996, UNESCO designated the East Wildlife Sanctuary Katka-Kanchikhali, Nilkumal South Sanctuary, and West Sanctuary as the 798th World Heritage Site. After that, the number of local and foreign eco-tourists visiting this mangrove forest has grown significantly.
The officer continued by pointing out that the major tree in the East Sundarbans is Sundari and that there are 334 types of plants, 165 varieties of algae, and 13 species of orchids.
The Sundarbans is a habitat for 375 different types of wild animals. The Royal Bengal Tiger, Chitral, and Maya deer, six species of dolphins, including the Irabotir, salty water crocodiles, turtles, King Cobras, and other snake types, are among them. There are 315 bird species.
Locals in the Sundarbans observed an increase in local and international eco-tourists in Karamjal, Harbariya, Katka, Jamtala, Tiger Point, Badamtala Sea, Kachikhali, Dubala Sutki Palli, Dubeyaki, Kalagachia, Mandarbariya, and Hiran Point-Nilkamal.
Samin said, "We enjoyed the sunset and dawn from the seashore of Badamtala of Katka in Bagerhat's East Sundarbans. We saw a group of deer and snakes while passing the Katka by boat. There were different kinds of birds as well. In fact, it was a wonderful afternoon to remember."
According to authorities, the new project will include seven fibre body fishing vessels, three rafts and gangways, six public toilets, the digging of eight and a half thousand cubic meters of pool, watchtowers, and foot rails to explore the forest.
Consequently, the forest authority expects a tremendous economic boost from this new eco-tourism spot. They have agreed to build a sufficient quantity of wooden walks, restrooms with contemporary washrooms, and other facilities.
The officer also indicated concerns about the effects of climate change, a lower stream of sweet water owing to the Farakka dam, and man-made risks to the Sundarbans' biodiversity. These factors also impede the reproduction of Royal Bengal Tigers, deer, and other species.
The forest department emphasises environmentally friendly and organised eco-tourism to maintain the Sundarbans' biodiversity.