The Sundarbans is the world's largest uninterrupted tidal mangrove forest, covering 10,000 square kilometres. Approximately 6,017 square kilometres are located in Bangladesh, with around 69 per cent being land and 31 per cent submerged.
This unique forest is characterised by its diversity of wildlife and the upstream watershed, which is affected by saline ocean currents and muddy sediments. The Sundari plant is the main plant found in these mangroves, and many believe the name 'Sundarban' derives from it.
The significance and role of the Sundarbans in this region are unparalleled, as the vast majority of this forest land covers the territory of Bangladesh.
Many tourist spots are spread across the vast expanse of the Sundarbans, which are the only option for travellers to explore. Especially when travelling through small rivers like Baleshwar, Bal, Shivsa, and Morjat, the serene forest on both sides is very soothing.
From a distance, the row of golpata trees and the pine trees, perfectly trimmed with the help of deer, the forest's 'Natural Trimmer', are enough to make anyone fall in love with the Sundarbans.
However, daily tides play a factor here, and crocodiles are often seen on the banks of small and large canals while a group of monkeys peek out from the branches of trees.
The plant species in this forest are quite diverse compared to other mangrove forests in the world, as not only saltwater flows through it, but fresh water also flows in certain areas.
The further west you go in the Sundarbans, the higher the salinity level increases compared to the eastern region. More diversity is seen in the eastern part of this forest sanctuary, with various plants, including sundari, gewa, pasur, keora, amur, golpata, and kakra observed.
Gewa, garan, hental are seen in the western sanctuary, and gewagach is more common in the southern sanctuary. There are 334 different species of plants in the Sundarbans.
Among the tourist spots in the Sundarbans, Kachikhali, Jamtala, Katka, Dobeki, Kalagachia, Harbaria, Neelkamal, Karamjal and Sutki, Dublar Char, famous for dry fish, get quite crowded from November to February.
Travellers can see deer, wild boar, monkeys and other birds while walking through the secluded forest. The silence of the forest, the waves of the river, and the Bay of Bengal provide enough tranquillity for tourists.
However, seeing heaps of non-biodegradable garbage lying on the seashore, conscious travellers feel worried.
Recently, fourth-year students of Chittagong University's Institute of Forestry and Environmental Sciences went on a field trip to collect non-biodegradable waste (beach cleaning).
There were six types of waste (plastic bottles, glass bottles, shoes, plastic packets, torn pieces of nets, etc.), and about 26 kg of waste was collected. Almost all of this non-biodegradable waste comes from the sea.
Just as we are fascinated by the vastness and spectacular beauty of the sea, the pollution from the sea beach, with its waste, undoubtedly worries conscious tourists.
The ocean's pollution rate is constantly increasing, and the horrors of this pollution are spreading among marine animals the most.
Swatches of No Ground in the Bay of Bengal being close to the Sundarbans, pods of dolphins are often spotted here. However, dolphins often get caught in torn pieces of nets and die in the nets of unscrupulous fishermen.
The Sundarbans is not just a water-land area or a biodiversity hotspot but also a significant reservoir of fish resources. The various canals and rivers in the forest are rich in numerous fish species.
To protect the Sundarbans' fisheries, fishing in all rivers and canals in the area has been closed from July 1 to August 31 each year since 2019, as recommended by the Integrated Resources Management Planning (IRMP).
During the ban, all types of passes and permits to enter the Sundarbans, including those for tourists and boats, are also suspended.
Currently, various plans are being adopted and implemented in the Sundarbans, with priority given to forest conservation and biodiversity protection.
However, there are still some challenges, including the poisoning of fishing in canals inside the forest, insufficient manpower, illegal logging without adequate monitoring, hunting of wildlife (such as deer), excessive pressure and careless behaviour of tourists during the tourist season, and littering.
To address these challenges, the forest department implemented 'Smart Patrolling' a few years ago, utilising modern technology and excellence to increase the level of surveillance. The patrolling teams consist of 6-8 members, including 2 armed members, and each team patrols forests and canals for 12-14 days.
The Sundarbans is a blessing to Bangladesh, which is evident only during natural calamities. Due to its geographical location and seasonal climate, Bangladesh is hit by various types of natural disasters every year, and the Sundarbans serve as a natural safeguard.
During natural calamities, two types of shocks occur over the forest areas: first, a gust of wind and then a tidal wave. The Sundarbans intercept cyclonic winds and reduce their speed before they reach the coastal region.
According to experts, a cyclone that has a speed of 100 km per hour in the forest will gust as it passes through the forest.
On the other hand, the Sundarbans intercept tidal waves before they reach the locality, reducing the wave height and damage to coastal areas.
The financial assessment of how the Sundarbans protect Bangladesh from natural disasters, including hurricanes, may run into billions of dollars each time. They protect coastal residents from injury and provide a strong green belt of various green trees.
As the Sundarbans have saved Bangladesh in many ways, it is our responsibility to save the Sundarbans for our own sake.