Thursday 18 December 2014

The Sundarbans Oil Spill Part 2

Sundarbans oil spill, Bangladesh
Photograph taken by and copyright AFP

I have today heard the fantastic news that the UN have sent 15 international experts to Bangladesh, some are experts in cleaning oil spills from habitats and the rest are experts in cleaning oiled wildlife. This is a brilliant start, but we need international pressure to make sure that this leads to teams of foreign experts supervising and managing the clean up project. We just can not expect the Bangladeshi Government to be able to do this alone, without any experience of this kind.

Local child collecting oil, Sundarbans oil spill, Bangladesh

What can you do to help?

As birders, environmentalists or Bangladeshi’s, we must all do everything we can NOW to help limit this disaster. Some things you can do:

  • Put pressure on international media to report on this catastrophe; 
  • Publicize what is happening in the Sundarbans on social media; 
  • Put pressure on bird/animal conservation organisations to help; 
  • Put pressure on organisations/companies/governments with expertise to help;
  • Give and help raise money – send your pledges to me; 
  • Offer your help through the International Save Sundarbans Facebook Group
  • Go and volunteer in the Sundarbans: 
  • Sign the petition Petition to Bangladesh PM and for those in Bangladesh Petition to our PM

A Young Conservationist's view

It was difficult for me outside of Bangladesh to know what was happening. I have tried to bring together the snippets of news into one article. These are the most difficult articles that I have written and they are not about Bangladeshi party politics but about saving a really special place on this earth. I have used photographs from Facebook and the internet and do not intend to breach any copyrights. 

Birdgirl Blog Sundarbans Oil Spill Part 1

BBC News Clip - 12/12/2014

The clean up

Sundarbans oil spill, Bangladesh

In the middle of last week, officials of the Environment Ministry said a ship carrying dispersants (chemicals that help remove oil from the water surface by breaking oil slicks into smaller droplets) was heading to the area and would start work Thursday afternoon. However, environmentalists were very concerned that using dispersants would cause further damage to the delicate mangrove ecology. 

The government also advised that it had started legal proceedings against the owners of the two boats. With the Ministry of Shipping also saying that the cargo boat had been detained and its survey certificate and registration cancelled.

Southern Star VII, Sundarbans, Bangladesh

On Thursday, officials at the Ministry of Environment and Forests confirmed that the naval vessel Kandari had arrived, raised the oil tanker and towed to the river bank along the river, stopping further spillage. However, it looks like it had lost most of the oil in the four damaged containers by the time it was recovered, with 100,000 litres remaining in the two undamaged containers. Although the ship had dispersants on board, it was fortunately stopped from using them by the Forestry Department.

Forest guards, environmentalists and local residents described how the oil had spread into smaller channels inside the forest, a complex mosaic of waterways, mud flats and small islands with the oil spreading 50 square miles and to at least 20 canals connected to the two rivers. By this time, the authorities had hired 100 boats and 200 local villagers, who were interviewed on TV talking about an overpowering stench of oil and how they had seen oil covered ducks dying.

Oil had covered grasses and plants on the banks of the rivers, affected seven young saltwater crocodiles at Karamjal Wildlife Reproduction Centre and killed at least a Monitor Lizard and Otter both found some miles from the accident site. I think this is likely to be the tip of the iceberg.

Mangroves covered in oil in Sundarbans, Bangladesh

Mangroves covered in oil in Sundarbans, Bangladesh

Environmentalists have criticized the government for not reacting sooner to the spill and for allowing commercial shipping to pass through a wildlife sanctuary, 

“It is completely unacceptable for tankers to be passing through an area with a delicate ecosystem like the Sundarbans,” said Syeda Rizwana Hasan, chief executive of the Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers’ Association. “This was a disaster waiting to happen.”

There was a meeting on Friday 12th December between the government and interested parties, when it was agreed that no chemical dispersants would be used in the clean up process. The government agreed to immediately send more naval boats with personnel and officials, so that there were a total of four involved as part of a clean up operation. Abdullah Al Islam, the Deputy Environment Minister, confirmed that the government had closed the boat route through the Sundarbans and had mounted a cleanup operation involving navy personnel, forest guards and local volunteers,

“We’re doing everything we can to limit the damage to the Sundarbans”. 

However, it is still clear that Bangladesh does not have the expertise to deal with this catastrophe.

The Shipping Minister, Shajahan Khan, who visited the area on Thursday afternoon, told BBC radio that a London-based team had offered its assistance for the clean-up but gave no further information. At the moment, it does not seem that the government has asked for any international help, which I don’t understand. 

The Ministry of Environment and Forests, also said that it had started to collect water samples from the Shela River, at 15 points every day. The Director-General of the Environment Department, Mohammad Shahjahan, said that they had sent the specimen of the chemicals for analysis to their own laboratory and the testing facilities of the Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (BUET).

“But we are yet to get their reports and suggestions. So until now we cannot give permission for its use [of chemicals] in the Sundarbans”.

Government officials say they still cannot give an assessment of the likely damage. 

Sundarbans oil spill, Bangladesh

The conservation effort

Tapan Kumer Dey, Chief Conservation Officer of forest wildlife said,

“The risk of damage to the biodiversity is high but we have yet to confirm any deaths of major animals including dolphins and crocodiles. Several teams are desperately trying to determine the immediate impact. We are closely monitoring the situation as this is a major disaster. We have spotted dolphins coming out of the water for air and going down again in some places. Crocodile movement in the affected areas has been less after the disaster and we are trying to determine actually what happened to them.”

Environmental activists are now warning of massive ecological disaster due to the spill, particularly in the southern parts of the Sundarbans, where the rivers meet the sea. Officials have agreed that the damage had been done as the slick has spread to two rivers and at least 20 canals.

The recent situation

There are some unsubstantiated claims that local villagers were stopping their help because they had not paid them but the government is saying that the price has been increased to TK40 per litre. Only 43,000 litres of oil have been collected by hand, with Amir Hossain Chowdhury, Chief Forestry Officer of the Sundarbans, giving an estimate that just 50,000 litres of oil is likely be collected in this way because the rest will disperse with the current or get mixed into the mud.

Since the oil spill, no fish, animals or birds have been seen in the area. They are either dead or moved into other areas, where they are unlikely to survive.

Local villager collecting oil, Sundarbans oil spill, Bangladesh

Ecology and biodiversity researcher Pavel Partha, at the oil spill, said that local people wading and trampling in the water to collect oil by hand, was causing oil to be mixed into the forest floor’s muddy soil, causing more contamination.

“The photosynthesis of primary food producers like Phytoplankton and Zoo-plankton will be badly affected by oil entering into the mud, and will ultimately destroy the primary level of the mangrove ecosystem’s food chain. The seeds of many plants will probably not sprout because of disruptions to respiration and evaporation caused by the oil. Engaging untrained locals in collecting the oil is also likely to turn out to be a boomerang. Along with oil, they are also collecting a lot of mud from the river banks. This may harm the composition of the soil and end up harming the regeneration of the forest ecosystem.”

Sundarbans oil spill, Bangladesh

Next: The Sundarbans Oil Spill Part 3

About the writer

Young Birder Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig on Scilly
Photograph taken by and copyright Chris Craig

Mya-Rose Craig is a 12 year old young birder, conservationist, writer and speaker.    She is based near Bristol and writes the successful Birdgirl Blog, with posts about birding and conservation from around the world.  She has recently been listed with the singer songwriter George Ezra and actress Maisie Williams from Game of Thrones as one of Bristol's most influential young people.  Please like her Birdgirl Facebook Page and follow her on Birdgirl Twitter


  1. We seriously need a new technology to recover from oil spills.We have seen many oil spill disasters which are taken place in Offshore sector.We have seen that there is drastic decrease of oil spills in Baltic sea 2013 and 2014.New innovative oil spill recovery technologies are going to take place to reduce the oil spills and also separation oil from water.Let's see what happens....

    1. Thanks Michael. I am really interested to know what is happening out there with spills and what can be done to clean up after them. Water Defense have still not done anything after raising that money and I feeling disappointed about that. It might be because of the Bangladesh government by my Mum and others have offered help to get permission, but with no response.


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