An oil spill from a tanker that collided with an empty cargo ship in Bangladesh-Sunderbans on Tuesday has sent a chill down the spine of wildlife officials in the Sunderbans in this country. A high alert has been sounded and forest officials along with other security agencies are closely monitoring the situation in the Sunderbans.
“Till now there are no reports that the oil spill has reached the Indian part of the Sunderbans. All our field staffs, particularly those deployed in the camps along the Indo-Bangla border, have been alerted. Patrolling has been beefed up to check if the oil spill is spreading to the Indian Sunderbans,” Ujjwal Kumar Bhattacharya chief wildlife warden of the state, told HT.
A tanker named OT Southern Star 7, carrying an estimated 350,000 litres (350 tons) of oil collided on Tuesday with another empty cargo vessel and partly sank in the Sunderbans’ Shela River in Bangladesh. The cargo ship was allegedly unable to locate the Southern Star due to heavy fog.
Experts in both the countries are apprehending that the spill will cause massive ecological disaster in the biggest mangrove forest in the world.
“The oil spill will mainly affect the avifauna (animals which depend on the water) including migratory birds, the dolphins, otters, Olive Ridley Turtles and crocodiles. Many could lose their lives especially where rivers meet the sea. This is the time when migratory birds including those from Siberia frequent the Sunderbans. This is also the time when Olive Ridley Turtles come close to the beaches to lay their eggs,” said S B Mondol, former head of the state forest department.
The Sunderbans forest, which covers 26,000 square kilometers in India and Bangladesh, is the habitat of famous Royal Bengal Tigers. It is also a UNESCO Heritage site.
“We have also informed all other security agencies including the BSF and the Coast Guard which patrol our borders to check if the oil spill is approaching our border. Our boats are also patrolling the Harinbhanga River and Raimangal which forms the boundary between the Indian Sunderbans and Bangaldesh,” said S Dasgupta field director of the Sunderban Tiger Reserve.
But wildlife experts and NGOs working on the Sunderbans are wary and apprehend that the spill in Bangladesh could affect the Indian part as the rivers are contiguous and the oil could reach the Indian rivers especially down south where the rivers meet the Bay of Bengal.
“The oil could easily reach this part of the Sunderbans through the rivers. The most prone would be the areas such as Baghamara and Mechua where the delta meets the sea in the southern part of the Sunderbans. If that happens it would spell doom,” said Biswajit Roy Choudhury of Nature Environment and Wildlife Society.
According to Bangladesh forest authorities the oil had spread along a 40 km (25 mile) section of the Sela River and has also affected portions of Passur river. Indian forest officials are, however, hopeful that the spill won’t affect the Indian side as each individual river drains into the sea.