The government has decided to roll back from the move to ban tourists from staying overnight at the St Martin’s Island, which was supposed to kick-off from Mar 1 next year.
“Rather than altogether banning spending nights, we will limit the number of tourists allowed for overnight stay,” Civil Aviation and Tourism Secretary Md Mohibul Haque told Bangla Tribune.
St Martin's is 10 kilometers northwest of Cox’s Bazar Teknaf. The 590-hectare island is about 8 kilometres long and has a population of more than 10,000, who depend on tourists for livelihoods.
Secretary Haque says an embargo on overnight stay will hamper the local population as well as the investments made in resorts.
The government’s Department of Environment (DoE) identified 325 land and 650 marine species that take this island as their native habitat.
Experts say that in recent years the island has been facing a host of problems caused by excessive tourists, uncontrolled development of hotels and motels, water pollution by oil spills from ships, destruction of jungles and sand dunes, and extraction of ground water.
Effluent from ships and tourists are seriously hampering the ecological balance, according to them.
In October this year, the government said it has decided to ban tourists' overnight stay in the coral island from Mar 1.
An inter-ministry committee on Sept 23 took the decision to save the endangered biodiversity of the lone coral reef island of the country. The decision was based on a DoE report filed earlier in the month.
It said that some 10,000 to 20,000 tourists visit St Matin's everyday and spend the night, risking the island’s biodiversity.
Moreover, the roads built by the local government and other authorities are also damaging the island.
The DoE report pointed out that the tourist influx has led to the depletion of the groundwater in the island.
The saline water of the sea might replace the groundwater anytime, ruining the biodiversity of the island completely, according to the report.
The report has recommended that no motor cycle, car or speedboat should be allowed to operate in the island. It has also recommended ban on GO bags which are being used to check erosion. Such bags are harming coral reef of the island, the report mentioned.
The report insisted that no lights should be put on at night as the lights are disturbing the breeding of turtles.
The report has said these decisions should be implemented within six months to one year.
In 1999, the government declared the island an ecologically critical area (ECA) under the Bangladesh Environment Protection Act (1995). The law forbids any act that can possibly damage the biodiversity of the island.