Sundarban – vote to protect a unique environment


(eTN) – The traditional wild forests of the Sundarban in South Asia are home to the endangered Royal Bengal Tiger and an unrivaled variety of animal, bird, and marine life. A Bangladeshi restaurateur, Tommy Miah, has launched a campaign for the whole of the Sundarban region, straddling the India-Bangladesh border, to be listed as one of the new 7 Wonders of Nature.

The campaign kicked off at a reception in the House of Commons in London hosted by Anne Main MP, chair of the all-party British-Bangladeshi Parliamentary Group. Among the celebrity guests were several British members of parliament and senior politicians, as well as the Bangladesh High Commissioner, the presence of Miss India added an extra sparkle to the occasion. All those at the launch were urged to encourage friends and family members to vote for the world’s largest mangrove forest area to be placed on UNESCO’s list of protected sites.

With heartbreaking images of the impact of the tsunami in Japan still fresh in everyone’s minds, one speaker caught the spirit of the moment when she said, “We have all seen the devastation in Japan, [and] the Sundarban campaign underlines the importance of protecting the world’s fragile environments.”

The Sundaraban – “Beautiful Forest” in Bengali – is a region of unending diversity and timeless beauty. Two-thirds is within Bangladesh, and the smaller Indian part has already been declared a National Park and a UNESCO Heritage site. Tiger preservation measures are in force throughout, but the target now is to have the entire area protected as one of Nature’s New 7 Wonders. Basic protection measures are already enforced by both governments, but Tommy Miah has drawn on a recent trip to the area to stress the urgent, essential need for international recognition.

The swampy Sundarban stretches nearly 200 miles along the Bay of Bengal – from the Ganges Delta to the Meghna Delta and inland for around 100 miles. The southernmost part is criss-crossed by numerous waterways and tidal rivers, giving way in the north to tracts of agricultural land. The region is not only a refuge for diminishing numbers of the Royal Bengal Tiger but is also home to a multitude of rare varieties of animal, bird, marine, and botanic species.

The tidal rivers support at least four different types of dolphin and well over 100 species of fish. On the banks, tigers and crocodiles can be spotted sunning themselves. The full extent of animal and plant life in the dense interior has not yet been recorded, but naturalists have listed no less than 300 different birds and an even greater number of plants and flowers.

It is impossible to over-estimate the importance of this bio-diverse region. Originating around 4,000 years ago with silt brought down from the mountains by powerful rivers, the forests help minimize regular flood threats to up-river settlements, while providing a home for rare birds and mammals.

The swampy nature of much of the region is not conducive to human settlement, but on the fringes there are thriving agricultural ventures that produce valuable timber and essential food crops. In the south, there are remains of former salt production and temples hundreds of years old.

The MP, Ann Main, appealed to people everywhere to vote for the Sundarban region to be declared one of Nature’s New 7 Wonders, saying, “Just a small press of a finger will help fulfill this dream.” Few other places in the world can offer anything so beautiful, so diverse, and so essential to life and a creature as magnificent as the Royal Bengal Tiger.