bangladesh bengal tiger
December 16, 2014

Catastrophic Bangladesh oil spill endangers rare species, including dolphins and tigers

Chuck Bednar for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online

An oil spill from a crashed tanker is causing what officials are calling an ecological “catastrophe” in the Sundarbans mangrove region of Bangladesh, putting two rare species of dolphin and several other forms of wildlife at risk.

The tanker, which The Guardian said was carrying an estimated 75,000 gallons (350,000 liters) of oil, collided with another vessel last week and partially sank in the Shela river region of the Sundarbans. While officials are uncertain exactly how much oil has spilled, they noted that the slick has spread to the nearly Passur river and into a network of canals in the region.

“It’s a catastrophe for the delicate ecology of the Sundarbans. The oil spill has already blackened the shoreline, threatening trees, plankton, vast populations of small fishes and dolphins,” Amir Hossain, chief forest official of the Sundarbans, told the UK newspaper last on Thursday. “The symptoms of environmental damage will be visible soon, as the water quality has already been damaged.”

Since then, the situation has worsened, National Geographic reported on Tuesday, threatening not only the dolphins but the highly endangered Bengal tiger and the overall wellbeing of the 3,850-square-mile UNESCO World Heritage site. Thus far, more than 52,000 gallons of oil spread across a 40 miles region of the Sundarbans.

Alexander explained that the collision between the tanker Southern Star 7 and a cargo vessel took place inside the Chandpai dolphin sanctuary, at the entrance to the Sundarbans and southeast of the river port on Mongla. Seven crew members survived by abandoning the ship and swimming to shore, while the body of the captain was recovered five days later.

While there has been no official announcement regarding the extent of the ecological damage caused in the region, local news footage has shown oil tarnishing both the shoreline and the mangrove trees, and residents have reportedly complained about the smell of oil. There have also been sightings of dead first and crabs in the area.

Hossain called it a “catastrophe” of “unprecedented” proportions, and said that he and his colleagues “don't know how to tackle this.” The region is home to more than 6,000 Irrawaddy dolphins, and a sanctuary for both those creatures and the long-nosed Gangetic dolphins. It is also a habitat for kingfishers, otters, monkeys, wild board and several other types of animal.

“Famously, the mangrove forest holds one of the last major tiger populations on Earth,” Alexander said. “More than a hundred tigers live in the Indian Sundarbans, and an unknown number in the less-studied, larger Sundarbans of Bangladesh. With only an estimated 3,000 wild tigers left throughout Asia, a population of even a hundred is hugely significant.”

“The risk of damage to the biodiversity is high but we have yet to confirm any deaths of major animals including dolphins and crocodiles,” Tapan Kumer Dey, chief conservator of forest wildlife, told the Associated Press (AP). “Several teams are desperately trying to determine the immediate impact. We are closely monitoring the situation as this is a major disaster.”

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