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Biodiversity & Environment

Plastic Crisis: Sundarbans

  • 18 Aug 2021
  • 5 min read

Why in News

Unregulated inflow of relief to the Sundarbans has resulted in a new crisis in the cyclone-battered region as plastic has been accumulated in the area.

  • The threat posed by plastic is so great for the Sundarbans because the region is witnessing frequent tropical storms, which lead to devastation.

Key Points

  • Plastic Pollution:
    • Plastic pollution is caused by the accumulation of plastic waste in the environment.
    • It can be categorized in primary plastics, such as cigarette butts and bottle caps, or secondary plastics, resulting from the degradation of the primary ones.
  • Reasons for Accumulation of Plastic in Sundarban:
    • Cyclones:
      • The region is witnessing frequent cyclones, which lead to devastation, followed by the necessity for relief and rehabilitation of inhabitants.
        • In geography, a location's relief is the difference between its highest and lowest elevations.
      • Plastic waste associated with relief material, used in the aftermath of Cyclone Amphan (May 2020) in the Sundarbans, could cause damage to the eco-sensitive region.
        • Prior to this, the region had witnessed cyclones Fani (May 2019) and Bulbul (November 2019).
    • Tourism:
      • Besides recent cases of cyclones in the region, tourists have also contributed to the accumulation as they leave behind heaps of plastic waste that is strewn all over the forest.
  • Concerns:
    • Increase Toxicity:
      • The presence of plastic in saline water increases the toxicity of water and could also contribute to the eutrophication of water.
        • Eutrophication is the process by which an entire body of water, or parts of it, becomes progressively enriched with minerals and nutrients.
        • It also results in oxygen depletion.
      • Given that Sunderbans is connected to the sea, the increase of plastic in the region could lead to plastic waste entering the ocean.
    • Threat to food System:
      • The breakdown of plastics in the water will lead to an increase in microplastics, which would subsequently enter the food system.
    • Affects Livelihoods:
      • Sunderbans is largely dependent on fisheries and aquaculture and any change in the delicate ecosystem can spell doom not only for the ecology but also for livelihoods.
  • Some related Initiatives:

Importance of Sundarbans

  • The Sundarbans ecoregion is located in the tidally active lower deltaic plain of the Ganges–Brahmaputra–Meghna (GBM) basin.
  • It hosts the largest contiguous mangrove forest and the only mangrove tiger habitat in the world.
    • Mangrove forests perform multiple ecological functions such as production of woody trees, provision of habitat, food and spawning grounds for fin-fish and shellfish, provision of habitat for birds and other valuable fauna; protection of coastlines and accretion of sediment to form new land.
  • Spread over parts of Bangladesh and India, the Protected Areas (PA) within the forested parts are designated by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) as World Heritage Sites in both countries.
  • The natural areas spanning 10,000 square kilometres across the two countries are also Ramsar Sites or Wetlands of International Importance.
  • The cleared forest tracts in the two countries are now collectively home to over 7.5 million people.
  • The area is known for its wide range of fauna, including 260 bird species and is home to many rare and globally threatened wildlife species such as the Estuarine Crocodile, Royal Bengal Tiger, Water Monitor Lizard, Gangetic Dolphin and Olive Ridley Turtles.

Way Forward

  • Government should ensure that the entrances to the Sundarbans Biosphere Reserve and the Sundarbans Tiger Reserve are tightly maintained.
  • Non-governmental Organizations (NGOs) and locals should be encouraged to collect plastic waste, which should also be recycled.
  • Also, the government should organize cleanliness drives to remove plastic from the Sunderbans.

Source: TH

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