In the Bangali language, this unique natural paradise is called ‘beautiful forest’, otherwise known as the Sundarbans. Lying on the delta of the Ganges, Brahmaputra and Meghna rivers on the Bay of Bengal, in South-Western Bangladesh; it is the largest and one of the last remaining mangrove forests in the world. Intersected by a complex network of tidal waterways, muddy lands and small islands; it is a unique example of its kind and thus highly valued by locals, travellers and scientists alike.
Since 1997 the Sundarbans are enlisted as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, due to it being an unmatched illustration of ongoing ecological processes. The site boasts a wide range of fauna, 260 bird species, the Bengal tiger, the rare estuarine crocodile and the Indian python; as well as housing a wide range of flora, with a total of 334 recorded plant species growing there.
The name ‘Sundarbans’ derives from the forest’s major tree, the Sundari, which may be found in great numbers on this site. Besides its rich biodiversity, the forest also acts as a buffer to protect the coastline from rising sea tides or other natural events. The forest also provides nursery grounds for a number of commercially important fish, prawns and crabs. Mangrove wetlands contribute various ecosystem services such as; soil formation, soil protection, the regulation of the hydrological cycle and play an important role in enhancing the fishery production, by exporting organic and inorganic nutrients. This natural wealth provides a livelihood, at certain seasons of the year, for thousands of people living in villages around the Sundarbans and working as wood-cutters, fishermen and gatherers of honey, leaves and grass.
Preserving such a natural phoneme for the future is therefore one of the main objectives of the Bangladeshi government. To achieve this they developed an action plan to ensure the biodiversity conservation of the forest. In 1977 three wildlife sanctuaries were established under the Bangladesh Wildlife Act. With the aim to stabilise and increase the Sundarbans’ tiger population, the government introduced the Bangladesh Tiger Action Plan, marking the beginning of a structured approach to ensure the long-term conservation of tigers.
Besides national efforts to protect the delicate ecological balance, supervised by the Bangladesh Forest Department, botanists, zoologists, environmentalists and conservationists from all around the world. The forest’s unique natural composition attracts numerous international researchers; carrying out a wide range of projects on environmental management and biodiversity or other research areas in the fields of biology, ecology or climate studies.
The government of Bangladesh is currently working towards the establishment of an eco-park, in order to attract eco-tourism to benefit both visitors and locals. The Forest Department took on this task and declared it as one of its top priorities. With the aim to contribute to the development of a healthy, responsible and sustainable type of tourism; it set out an eco-tourism development and management plan. This plan advises on legislation, tourism practices, structural changes, training and facility requirements and marketing strategies.
The Forest Department concluded that tourism is a productive choice for using natural resources in a prolific way. Local communities have already started to take advantage of this potential new source of income by setting up local handicraft stores or entertaining visitors with cultural shows. An increase in eco-tourism therefore provides Bangladeshis, who live around the Sundarbans, with an alternative way to generate income. This may give them the opportunity to distance themselves from relying on the forest’s resources. Hence, eco-tourism has great potential to contribute to the country’s economy, which in return ensures the safeguarding of this unique natural paradise for many generations to come.
How might tourism be made more environmentally friendly on a global scale?