St Martin’s Island, on the tip of the Naf river and Cox’s Bazar, is truly a natural marvel of Bangladesh. The island has developed into a big tourist hotspot with thousands of local tourists visiting the coral island at any time of the year.
Recently a circular was issued by the Department of Environment on following certain rules while visiting the island. Overtourism has caused a lot of damage to the island. Some hotel hospitality service providing businesses have proven to be just profit mongers, and their questionable activities have forced the authorities concerned have a closer look into the matter.
Not so long ago many mainstream media used to report on how St Martin’s Island is as close as one can get to heaven on earth. We also heard from seasoned tourists, how naturally gifted the island was, with its pristine waters at its shoreline, natural kaleidoscopic corals reefs, etc. We were constantly reminded by the print or electronic media how St Martin’s Island is helping to boost tourism and its local economy.
During this Covid-19 pandemic first lockdown, some youth had to stay on the island. When they came back to the mainland, they wrote about their time on the island. The travel enthusiasts and readers were lucky enough to read about their experience of living on the island for weeks. Through their writing, we get hints of how St Martin’s Island regained its long lost splendour within a matter of few weeks.
Nevertheless, today we have a completely different scenario at our hand. The second wave of the Covid-19, and the unconventional lockdowns allowed some businesses to operate while violating the law. There have been reports on how they have used the natural corals taken from the island to decorate their establishments on the island. One can remember how people rushed to the tourist spots after the first relatively tough lockdown came to an end. St Martin’s Island saw a lot of people visiting, and as expected the island had to deal with a lot of manmade waste.
Now it must be admitted the rules and restrictions ordered by the Department of Environment (DoE) is indeed a piece of welcome news. That been said, one should consider this as the first real step to awareness-building towards saving St Martin’s Island natural beauty and its resources. The authority concerned should find more ways to involve other organisations who are associated with tourism. The big question lies in the implementation of these rules and restrictions. How and who is going to ensure these directives are followed and will the real guilty parties be brought under The Environment Protection Act of 1995, along with its amendments of 2010 are questions that needs to be answered.
The visitors to the island might not be aware of the directives or are reluctant to follow them. Keeping these aspects in mind, how these messages can be transmitted more effectively have to be taken into consideration. The tourism police must be briefed clearly on this matter and the local authorities have a vital role to play to ensure tourists abide by these directives. The businesses operating there should be brought under strict monitoring; otherwise, it will be hard to save the precious natural assets of St Martin’s Island.
A joint endeavour is required from the Department of Environment (DoE), Bangladesh Tourism Board, people associated with the hospitality business in the island,law enforcement bodies, both at the island and on the mainland should work together to save St Martin’s Island. Otherwise, one cannot be but sceptical, as the directives are only as good as their implementation.
Sheikh Iraj is the Editorial Assistant at The Business Post