The Sundarbans of Bangladesh have been declared a Natural World Heritage site. One of the few existing biologically productive natural ecosystems of the world, the Sundarbans are also the world’s largest mangrove forest. A significant part of the Sundarbans lies in India, where it has been designated The Sundarbans National Park, also a World Heritage Site. The Bangladesh side of the Sundarbans consists of three wildlife sanctuaries – Sundarbans East, West, and South – on the deltaic islands of Khulna district. The forests and waterways of Sundarbans support a wide spectrum of natural life – some close to extinction. No hunting is allowed within the forests.
- cover approximately 10,000 sq.km of land and water. The total area of the Bangladesh Sundarbans is 5,771sq.km (almost 62 percent of the total) – the remaining area is in India.
- are a part of the world’s largest delta (80,000sq.km) formed by sediments brought down by three great rivers, the Ganges, Brahmaputra and Meghna.
- a distinctive feature of the Sundarbans is the intricate network of interconnecting water channels. Some of these channels can exceed a mile in width.
- the rainfall and humidity are both high. Most of the rainfall is during the Monsoon season from June to October.
- It is the world’s largest mangrove forest.
- It supports a spectacular wildlife both in terms of numbers and variety – though many species are on the verge of extinction.
The Sundarbans are home to
- 49 species of mammals, including Javan rhinoceros, water buffalo, Ganges river dolphin, swamp deer, gaur, hog deer, spotted deer, wild boar, otter, wild cat, and tiger.
- 315 species of birds including the white-bellied sea-eagle, raptors, waterfowl, kingfisher, grey-headed fish eagle Herons, egrets, sandpipers, curlew, and storks. The forest birds found here include woodpeckers, barbets, shrikes, drongos, mynahs, minivets, and babblers.
- 53 species of reptiles and eight of amphibians that include crocodiles, monitors, Indian python, turtle, King cobra, and spectacled cobra.
- 120 species of fish including mud-skippers and gobys. Shrimps, prawns, lobsters, and crabs are found in abundance. Bull sharks, Sandbar shark, tiger shark, Hammerheads, stingray, anchovy are found as well.
- an insect population including honey- bees.
- The deltaic islands were once inhabited by humans, as shown by archaeological evidence. These human settlements did not survive beyond the 17th century.
- Sundarbans provide livelihood to approximately 300,000 people who work as fishermen, wood-cutters, and gather honey, leaves (for roofing), and grass (for matting). Approximately 2.5 million people live in the surrounding villages.
The Bangladeshi and Indian officials are working together to protect the ecology of Sundarbans. The threat to its unique fauna and flora requires more cross-border cooperation. The fact that Sundarbans span both countries; does not mean that it has to be managed as two entities. The officials in India and Bangladesh are considering managing it as a single eco-system. Sundarbans need to be protected from pollution and human encroachment.