'Catastrophe': Oil Spill at Bangladesh World Heritage Site

Fears of long-lasting ecological damage at a UNESCO World Heritage site are mounting following a massive oil spill into a river in Bangladesh.

The disaster began early Tuesday last week when an empty vessel struck a tanker carrying an estimated 92,500 gallons of oil, causing the fuel-filled vessel to capsize in the Shela River. That waterway is part of the biodiverse-rich Sundarbans, the world’s largest contiguous mangrove forest and home to the endangered Bengal tiger and Ganges and Irawadi dolphins. An area next to the river is designated as a dolphin sanctuary.

A forest official said Saturday that the spilled furnace oil had spread to an estimated 300 to 350sq kilometers through the mangrove’s network of waterways. Hundreds of fishermen in the area are attempting to clean up the oil with pots, pans and sponges, Agence France-Presse reports. The area’s chief forest official Amir Hossain told the news agency Thursday that there were “no coordinated efforts to tackle the disaster,” and said the air in the area was toxic.

The spill could be “the largest catastrophe to have happened in this fragile mangrove ecosystem,” Monirul Khan, a zoology professor of Dhaka’s Jahangirnagar University, told AFP. “It’s going to cause a long term damage to the forest,” he said, adding that the impact could be worse than that of the deadly 2007 cyclone.

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