Oil spill in the Sunderbans

Marine scientists, wildlife activists and forest officers have gone on alert in India’s Sunderbans following the massive oil spill in Bangladesh. With the Sunderbans comprising a contiguous ecosystem that spans the two countries, there is anxiety over its effect on the Indian mangroves.
Apart from Olive Ridleys, the mangroves are home to the biggest tiger population. The mangrove delta also sustains crocodiles, dolphins, migratory birds, otters and a large variety of fish.
Not just forest department guards, even Border Security Force and Coast Guard have been asked to keep a watch, particularly along Harinbhanga River and Raimangal where Indian Sunderbans seamlessly merges into Bangladesh.
Till a few years ago, even the Indian Sunderbans were vulnerable to oil spill with oil tankers plying on routes that skirted the tiger reserve. But foresters woke up to the risk and after explaining the apprehension to the government, got the routes shifted to a safe distance.

The tanker crash that caused the oil spill in the protected Sunderbans, the first disaster on this scale in the area, was an accident `waiting to happen', say environmentalists. Both tankers were in a no-go zone that was declared a sanctuary for endangered dolphins in 2011. Despite that, ever since silt choked the standard shipping route, ships and trawlers have navigated their way through the forest.
While neither vessel should have been in the sanctuary , the empty tanker that caused the crash broke even the minimum rule of not plying at night, reports said. The Chandpai area where the accident occurred is strictly out of bounds for ships, especially larger vessels, the Dhaka Tribune quoted environmentalists. “Sunderbans is in big trouble. Our priority should be to limit damage immediately,” the paper quoted a water resources expert. The rammed ship, Southern Star VII, began sinking fast and discharging its load of 357,664 litres of furnace oil into the river. Reports said the cargo was being shipped to a power station in Gopalganj. The ship sailed the illegal route as the recommended Mongla-Morelganj channel is clogged and has no draft for big vessels.
As Bangladesh struggled to address the slick — its navy ill-equipped to do so — local officials and residents said the spilt oil quickly spread into smaller channels, covering waterways and mudflats. Villagers complained of stench and ducks trapped and dying in the floating oil. The slick, some unconfirmed reports said, spread 50 to 70 square km.
Environmentalists said the Irrawaddy and Gangetic Dolphins would be the first to take a hit. The thick layer of oil on the river surface will drastically reduce the dissolved oxygen, suffocating aquatic life.
The coastal mangrove goes under water twice a day in high tide. Once water recedes, a thick layer of oil will cover the vegetation and rinse into the soil. Deer survive on this vegetation and tigers feed on them. In the long run, both animals would suffer, environmentalists said. The mangrove ecosystem, they said, consists of salt-water trees like the Sundari, Kewra, Goran, Poshur and Gol.Windfall seeds from these trees fall to the ground and germinate. But once they fall on oil-covered soil, they’ll die.
On Thursday, a ship with “dispercent”, a chemical arrived at the accident site.

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