The Sundarbans is one of the last remaining sanctuaries of endangered species of wildlife. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Royal Bengal Tiger, the Irrawaddy and Gangetic Dolphins along with at least four other species, as well as many species of endangered birds, including the Masked Finfoot have found and maintained sanctuary in this swampy part of the Bengal Basin. The bio and eco diversity of the Sundarbans stuns all. Apart from the major rivers of Bangladesh meandering through the thick carpet of forest, it is strewn with many minor tributaries. Named for the Sundari Trees, the plant life of this area is specially adapted to the daily high and low tides. Their roots sprout above ground in clusters. The Sundarbans is a source of livelihood for thousands living in the area. The largest mangrove forest of the world attracts tourists in flocks. Its beauty is so divine.
It is also home to the second largest sea port of Bangladesh, the Mongla Port. As a result, cargo ships and oil tankers ply the rivers connecting the sea to the mainland on almost every day, regardless of the climatic factors that may hinder transportation.
On the 9th of December, something very similar happened. With winter slowly settling in, the fog was at its densest in the wee hours of morning. One could not see an approaching vessel until it was almost on them. In such conditions, the Southern Star 7, an oil tanker carrying approximately 350000 liters of thick black furnace oil, docked in the confluence of the Sela and Passur rivers, due to low visibility. Soon, a cargo ship sailing on the same route rammed right into the tanker. The contents of the tanker emptied mercilessly into the waters of the river that was home to many species of fish and support to many species of plants on the banks and people living on its shores.
For miles, the viscous sludge continues to block sunlight from entering the water. The trees that used to shine with the high-tide line now shine with the dark fuel. The Bengal Tigers and Dolphins have been found blackened and tarred with the furnace oil. Small birds have been caught in the muddy poisonous sludge. The viscous liquid covers the water surface, making swirling patterns, and often, forming ominous looking dark rainbows on the surface of the once-clear water.
As foreboding as the situation sounds, the government of Bangladesh has not taken adequate measures to prevent large scale damage. On the contrary, they have organized haphazard cleanup operations with minimal protection for the ones carrying it out, and are deliberately saying that there will not be much damage caused. The children and fishermen living in the Joymoni village have been scooping up the oil with their bare hands, collecting them in cooking pots, standing in waist deep goop all day. And when they get back home, the sky is filled with smoke from fires that heat the oil collected to make it as pure as possible. After these many days passing, the children have started to fall sick.
Meanwhile, the government is already pushing for ways to get the transportation back to normal. With the route through the Sela River banned, many cargo delivery dates are falling behind schedule.
Keeping all of this in mind, Water Defense, an international non-profit, has decided to come to Sundarban’s aid. They are carrying out an online fundraising activity to avail water experts to come to Bangladesh as quickly as possible, and help volunteers to soak up the furnace oil with the use of special foam, OPFLEX. Here is the website where you can donate:
Water Defense was founded by award winning Hollywood Actor Mark Ruffalo, a.k.a., The Hulk.
There’s less than a week left. Please donate for the cause. Help save the Sundarbans!
You can also volunteer online at savethesundarbans.org.
Photo Credits: Arati Rao- Ficus Media (http://www.ficusmedia.com/sundarbans_oilspill/)