Locals use Sponges to clean Sundarbans oil spill threatening endangered Dolphins
13 December 2014, Nirapad News : Bangladeshi villagers using sponges, shovels and even spoons worked on Friday to clean up a huge oil spill in a protected area that is home to rare dolphins, after environmentalists warned of an ecological “catastrophe”. Thousands of litres of oil have spilt into the protected Sundarbans mangrove area, home to rare Irrawaddy and Ganges dolphins, after a tanker collided with another vessel on Tuesday.
Two probe bodies formed to investigate the oil tanker capsize incident on the Shela river near the Sundarbans, a Unesco natural heritage site, visited the spot this morning. The government has sent a ship carrying oil dispersants to the area, which is inside one of three sanctuaries set up for the dolphins. The committees will inspect the reason of the accident, measure impact of the oil spilling and whether there are any negative effects of spraying the ‘oil spill dispersant’. But environmentalists say the chemicals could harm the delicate ecology of the Sundarbans. A total 400 litres oil out of 3.58 lakh found at the oil tanker, said M Giasuddin, managing director of the owning firm, Harun & Company. Navy vessel Kandari-10 is standing by near at the accident spot. It will spray the powder if they get clearance from the environment department.
The authorities pulled the sunken oil tanker ashore yesterday. But all the 3.58 lakh litres of furnace oil the tanker had been carrying already spilled into the rivers and the adjacent cannels.
As authorities debated whether to deploy the dispersants, the company that owns the stricken oil tanker said it would buy up the oil that local villagers have collected. “It has no commercial value as it can’t be used, but we are using the offer to encourage people so that the cleaning up process speeds up,” said Rafiqul Islam Babul of the Padma Oil Company. “Villagers including children are going out onto the river in boats to collect the oil floating on the water using sponges, shovels and spoons,” he said. “Then they are putting it in small ditches on the river banks and our employees are buying it.” The head of the local port authority earlier told reporters that fishermen would use “sponges and sacks” to collect the spilt oil, which has already spread over an 80-kilometre (50-mile) area.
Amir Hosain, chief forest official of the Sundarbans, admitted that authorities were unsure about the best course of action. “This catastrophe is unprecedented in the Sundarbans and we don’t know how to tackle this,” he told AFP. “We’re worried about its long-term impact, because it happened in a fragile and sensitive mangrove ecosystem.”
The environment experts reported that the oil already has been spread on the rivers and canals with span of at least 200 kilometers area adjacent of the mangrove forest. Even the forest department primarily has lodged a general diary (GD) at the local police station and filed a case at Bagerhat court claiming a compensation of Taka 100 crore due to the incident. But it is expected that the loss of the bio-diversity of the Sundarbans due to the incident would be the loss of Taka 500 crore.
Spread over 10,000 square kilometres (3,800 square miles), the Sundarbans is a UNESCO-listed World Heritage Site and home to hundreds of Bengal tigers. The delta comprises a network of rivers and canals. Bangladesh’s coastal areas including the Sundarbans were the “largest known home” of the Irrawaddy dolphins. Irrawaddy Dolphins can be found in South East Asia, but their population size is very small compared to Bangladesh. Bangladesh set up sanctuaries in the Sundarbans in 2011 after studies showed that there were hundreds of endangered Irrawaddy and Ganges river dolphins there. Fishing is banned in the area, but tankers and other boats are allowed to pass through. The Irrawaddy and Ganges dolphins are both on the warning “red list” of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), which says numbers are falling.