Biodiversity is defined as the number and types of plants and animals that exist in a particular area or in the world generally. Protecting the biodiversity is of utmost importance in today’s world. Similarly in Bangladesh, the biodiversity of which is in fact an excellent combination of forestry, hills and marine ecosystems, the issue of conservation has become essential. Since the advancement of industrial activities, a sharp decline has been recorded in the number of species living in this beautiful country. The worrying state of such destruction has become apparent when the 2015 IUCN Red list of Bangladesh declared that, among 1619 species of seven wildlife groups, 31 species are already extinct and 390 others are threatened with extinction.

In this context, the flagship legislation on environmental protection, the Bangladesh Environment Conservation Act (BECA) of 1995 has empowered the Government to declare an area facing environmentally critical situation to be an Ecologically Critical Area under Section 5. To make such a declaration, the Government must be satisfied that due to degradation of environment, the ecosystem of that given area has reached or is threatened to reach a critical state or condition. Therefore, an Ecologically Critical Area (ECA) is an area in Bangladesh, which, being enriched with unique biodiversity or being environmentally significant, needs protection from destructive activities or conservation and is basically an environmentally protected zone defined by the legal authorities.

The legal mandates under the BECA empower the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change to determine which of the territories require this special recognition in order to be protected. Rule 3 of the Environment Conservation Rules, 1997, therefore, determines that the following factors must be considered while declaring any ECA: a) human habitat, b) ancient monument, c) archeological site, d) forest sanctuary, e) national park, f) game reserve, g) wild animals’ habitat, h) wetland, i) mangrove, j) forest area, k) biodiversity of that area along with other relevant factors. Through the years 1999, 2001, 2009, 2015 and 2016 the following areas have been declared as ECAs in the country:

ECA NameCategory of EcosystemLocation (Zilla)
SundarbansThe outside of Sundarbans Reserved Forest at 10 km extent Bagerhat, Khulna, Saatkhira, Pirojpur, Borguna
Cox’s Bazar – Teknaf Sea beachVillage, Agricultural Land, Hills, ForestCox’s Bazar
Saint Martin’s IslandCoastal Waterways, Oceanic Island with CoralsCox’s Bazar
Sonadia IslandMangrove forestsCox’s Bazar
Hakaluki HaorHaor (Watershed)Sylhet, Moulavibazar
Tanguar HaorHaor (Watershed)Sunamganj
Marjat BaorOxbow LakeJhenaidah
Gulshan-Baridhara LakeUrban LakeDhaka
BurigangaRiverBeside Dhaka Metropolitan
TuragRiverBeside Dhaka Metropolitan
BaluRiverBeside Dhaka Metropolitan
SitalakshyaRiverBeside Dhaka Metropolitan and Narayanganj
Jaflang-DaukiRiver and the surrounding area of 500 metresSylhet
HaldaRiver and the surrounding area of 500 metresChattogram, Khagrachhari

Table: Declared ECAs of Bangladesh

The legal requirements under BECA compel the concerned authorities to ban certain activities within the ECAs, which are:- felling or collecting trees, hunting, catching or killing wildlife, industrial establishment, fishing, and other activities that might affect fish or aquatic life. In general, any activity that could destroy the natural characteristics of soil or water in these areas are to be prevented under this law.

To address the extreme events of extinction, the Government of Bangladesh has also taken some institutional steps which include area-based observation, project implementations and awareness-raising programmes. The Department of Environment, which is the technical arm of the Ministry, reports quite a few engaging activities that have been undertaken to protect and conserve the ECAs of Bangladesh. The following description briefly depicts those measures of management at the ECAs:

  • Village Conservation Group (VCG)

In order to carry out various activities relating to the protection and conservation of biodiversity in the ECAs of Hakaluki Haor, Cox’s Bazar Sea Beach, Saint Martin Island and Sonadia Island, in total 75 Village Conservation Groups are maintained by the Department of Environment.

  • Creation and Conservation of Mangrove Forests

Mangrove forests of our country are playing critical roles as nursery of divergent fishes, migratory birds and aquatic animals. These forests, which are situated in the areas of Moheshkhali Upazila, Teknaf are being protected. In addition, the DoE has expanded the range of mangroves at Nuniarchhara Upazila situated in Cox’s Bazar Sadar.

  • Creation and Conservation of Wetland Forests

The wetland forests situated in Hakaluki Haor have been enhanced through protective measures. These forests have added a new dimension to the ecotourism possibilities in Bangladesh by nurturing numerous species of aquatic animals.

  • Creation of Watershed Sanctuary by re-excavation of Lakes

Through re-excavation of lakes, the DoE has created 15 new watershed sanctuaries in the Hakaluki Haor. Such sanctuaries are aimed at the preservation of the biodiversity within the Haor.

  • Establishment of Solar-based irrigation pumps

To empower the farmers in combating global warming, 5 solar-based irrigation pumps have been established within the area of Hakaluki Haor and in Cox’s Bazar.

  • Micro-credit Program for Beneficiaries

The poor population which depend on the extortion of natural resources from the ECAs need to become financially solvent enough and have alternative income sources to stop destroying the biodiversity within those areas. To empower these people, the Government has given BDT 82 lakh within 2003-2011 and BDT 68 lakh within 2010-2015 under the Micro Capital Grant Program.

  • Establishment of Environment Watch Tower

Two watch towers have been established at Hakaluki Haor and Cox’s Bazar to provide for the security of the biodiversity in those ECAs.

Aside from these major programmes, the local authorities of Bangladesh have also taken steps to protect specific ECAs in the following ways –

  1. Conservation of sea turtles in Sea beaches of Cox’s Bazar, Sonadia Island and Teknaf;
  2. Conservation of birds and wildlife in Hakaluki Haor and Cox’s Bazar through habitat conservation;
  3. Tree plantation programmes at ECAs;
  4. Coral preservation at Saint Martin’s Island;
  5. Providing Endowment Fund of BDT 1 Crore to ECA committees of Hakaluki Haor and Cox’s Bazar Upazilas and
  6. Awareness-raising programmes for the communities living in and around the ECAs.

Under the Ecologically Critical Area Rule 2016, a National Committee is to be formed which will consider the prevailing naturalness and biodiversity status of the threatened area and identify causes of deterioration and potential threat. It shall recommend to the government about alternative livelihood for the dependent population of the ECAs. This committee is also directed to supervise or provide guidance and directives to the nationally executed government development projects.

Alongside the National Committee, the District Committee is designed for providing directions and suggestions to the Upazila Committees regarding taking mitigation measures to overcome critical environmental condition of the ECAs. The Rule of 2016 also empowers the DCs to recommend to the National Committee and the DoE about restrictive measures which should be taken in the ECAs based on the recommendation of the Upazila committee. The DCs are therefore responsible for taking measures for alternative livelihood if the livelihood of the local community is limited by the restrictive measures taken in the ECAs.

Despite the ample records of administrative projects and international steps being taken in order to conserve the biodiversity of Bangladesh, the number of animals and birds living in this country is still going down. To identify the major reasons, the lack of manpower comes first. Clearly, the ECA Rule 2016 has vested dual responsibility to the DoE. The department is expected to both regulate and provide advisory comments on the management of ECAs. However, ECA management is more complex because both public and private properties are included in it. Direct conflicts with local community land tenure rights and access to the use of their land are inevitable. But, without creating any separate office for the management of ECAs, the newly created committees share the existing institution ie, the DoE for the management of ECAs. Though the Rules provide that, an officer of the DoE will carry out the secretarial functions of the District, Upazila and Union committees, the DoE only has offices in 22 out of 64 districts, and has no office in any Upazila or Union. In addition, it is apparent that the major focus of the conservation efforts is centered around the coastal areas of Bangladesh while the other ECAs are not widely discussed. In fact, the ECAs situated around the urban areas are being exploited endlessly while urbanization efforts continue. While no monitoring mechanism is established for curbing corruption among the authorities,

It is now imperative for the general citizens of Bangladesh to become aware of the devastating effects erosion of biodiversity can bring and cooperate with the administrative steps being taken. To conclude, the biodiversity of Bangladesh can only be saved when policymakers finally have given the proper effort and utilized the available scientific knowledge on biodiversity protection. Therefore, a concentrated effort needs to be made by both the civil society and the authorities towards proper implementation of the initiatives taken after proper research and guidance from environmental scientists.