The United States and the United Nations (UN) are sending experts to Bangladesh to assess the impact and potential clean up of a serious oil spill that threatens the Sundarbans, a globally important mangrove ecosystem and home to endangered river dolphins.
Nearly 350,000 liters of oil spilled into the world's largest mangrove forest on 9 December, after a tanker carrying furnace oil collided with another vessel. The spill occurred within the Chadpai Wildlife Sanctuary, part of the 140,000 hectare Sundarbans – a mangrove-rich UNESCO World Heritage site known for its exceptional biodiversity.
Bangladesh’s “government was totally unprepared for this,” says Brian D. Smith, director of The Wildlife Conservation Society’s Asian Freshwater and Coastal Cetacean Program. “There were some real jurisdiction problems… It wasn't clear who was in charge.”
Although the waterway where the spill occurred is within the Sundarbans, which is under the remit of the Forest Department, navigation falls under the Ministry of Shipping. “Everybody kept deferring to the Ministry of Shipping, since they were the ones clearly the most in charge… but they were nowhere to be found,” says Smith.
When the tanker was finally brought onshore, only 200 liters of the heavy oil remained, according to Bangladeshi officials. “We can assume that virtually all the oil escaped into the Shela channel and spread from there” throughout the Eastern Sundarbans says Elisabeth Fahrni Mansur, Director of Training & Education for The Wildlife Conservation Society’s Bangladesh Cetacean Diversity Project in Khulna, Bangladesh. The oil’s viscosity is a double-edged sword for the environment—the heavy oil did not disperse as fast as lighter oil would, but it also means that much of the oil is being retained in the structure and woody debris of the mangrove forest.
Mangrove forests are the tropical ecosystem that is most sensitive to oil spills, according...Continue Reading »