Ecologically Critical Area

Ecologically Critical Area ecologically defined areas or ecosystems affected adversely by the changes brought through human activities. The Bangladesh Environment Conservation Act (BECA), 1995 has provision for Ecologically Critical Area (ECA) declarations by the Director General of the Department of Environment in certain cases where ecosystem is considered to be threatened to reach a critical state. If the government is satisfied that due to degradation of environment, the ecosystem of any area has reached or is threatened to reach a critical state, the government may by notification in the official gazette declare such areas as Ecologically Critical Areas. The government shall specify, through the notification provided in sub-clause (1) or by separate notification, which of the operations or processes cannot be initiated or continued in the Ecologically Critical Area (Bangladesh Environment Conservation Act/BECA), 1995.

In April 1999, the Director General of the Department of Environment (DOE) officially declared nearly 40,000 ha, within seven separate wetland areas, as ECAs. These sites are Hakaluki Haor, Sonadia Island, st martin's island, and Teknaf Peninsula (cox's bazar Sea Beach) but not their buffer zones. tanguar haor, Marjat baor (oxbow lake) at Jhenaidaha and outside of Sundarbans Reserved Forest at 10 km extent all of which were deemed to meet the 'urgency criterion' required by BECA, ie, they were 'threatened to reach a critical state'. Although a large number of ecosystems in Bangladesh could accurately be described as 'threatened', it would be impossible for the government to declare and manage all of them as ECAs. In order to identify priority sites, a series of biodiversity 'importance criteria' have been taken into account in addition to the above 'urgency criterion'. This led to the selection of two additional sites as ECAs: Tanguar haor, an important wetland area located in northeastern Bangladesh, and Marjat baor, a small but biologically significant oxbow lake. All ECAs thus far selected include a combination of public and private lands, with relevant restrictions equally applicable to both.

ECA site at Cox's Bazar' lies at the extreme southeastern corner of Bangladesh on the border with Myanmar. The site consists of three component areas: (i) the western, coastal zone of Teknaf Peninsula (10,465 ha in area), which is a long, narrow and forested peninsula separating the bay of bengal from the estuary of the naf river and neighbouring Myanmar; (ii) St Martin's Island (590 ha), a sedimentary continental island located 10 km south of Teknaf Peninsula, and; (iii) Sonadia Island (4,924 ha), a barrier island a few km north of Teknaf Peninsula. The coastal and island habitats represent the site's 'focal areas' and total approximately 16,000 ha. An additional 30,000 ha, consisting of degraded but still biodiversity-rich upland forest watershed on Teknaf Peninsula, will be considered as the 'buffer zone'. While the project is designed to address and remove all threats to biodiversity within its focal areas, threats within the wider 'buffer zone' will be mitigated in order to provide additional protection for the 'focal areas'. People living within the Cox's Bazar site are heavily dependent on fisheries, marine products and, to a lesser extent, agriculture for their livelihood. The ECA area encompassed by the site contains biodiversity of global significance. Over 800 species of wildlife have been identified from the ECA areas, more than 20 of which are globally threatened. The following are the important areas in terms of biodiversity:

Teknaf Peninsula 'one of the longest sandy beach ecosystems (80 km) in the world. It represents a transitional ground for the fauna of the Indo-Himalayan and Indo-Malayan ecological sub-regions. The peninsula provides breeding areas for four globally threatened species of marine turtles and, lying along international bird migration flyways, serves as a significant bird area, with over 81 species recorded. Finally, its inshore water hosts globally threatened marine mammals.

St Martin's Island' one of the few areas in the world where coral-algal communities dominate rocky reefs. This unique set of environmental conditions, biotic and abiotic, has no parallel in Bangladesh and perhaps not worldwide. The island also supports significant breeding areas for globally threatened marine turtle species and serving as a stepping stone for several globally threatened migratory waders.

Sonadia Island 'supports the last remaining remnant of mangrove forest in southeast Bangladesh, which once stretched along much of the coastline of Chittagong and Cox's Bazar. Sonadia's mangroves are distinct from the well-known sundarbans in Southwest Bangladesh, due to their development in a coastal lagoon setting rather than in a delta. This has led to the domination of different mangrove species, ones that were able to tolerate higher levels of salinity than their Sundarbans cousins. In addition to this important mangrove area, the island supports a large number of waterbirds, mollusks, echinoderms, and marine turtles.

Hakaluki Haor 'located in greater Sylhet, the haor offers a very different type of ecosystem as well as a new set of management issues. The haor basin is an extensive alluvial plain supporting a variety of wetland habitats. It contains about 47 major haors and more than 6,000 beels, or freshwater lakes, nearly half of which are seasonal. Hakaluki Haor itself is a complex of more than 80 inter-connecting beels located in the Maulvi Bazar district. During the dry season, the beels cover an area of approximately 4,400 ha. However, during the rainy season, the entire area gets flooded, and the beels are united as one large lake, or haor, with an area of approximately 18,000 ha. This makes it the largest haor in Bangladesh. Some 190,000 people live surrounding Hakaluki haor area. Hakaluki haor is a highly significant site for a wide variety of waterfowl. It is important for wintering migratory birds. Its overall significance is perhaps best expressed with reference to the various criteria for inclusion as a Ramsar site. 'It is a particularly good representative example of a wetland which plays a substantial hydrological, biological or ecological role in the natural functioning of a major river basin85' (Ramsar Criterion 1.c); 'It supports an appreciable assemblage of rare, vulnerable or endangered species of plant or animal, or an appreciable number of individuals of any one or more of these species. (Criterion 2.a); 'It is of special value for maintaining the genetic and ecological diversity of a region because of the peculiarities of its flora and fauna. (Criterion 2.b); 'It regularly supports about 20,000 waterfowl. (Criterion 3.a); 'It regularly supports substantial numbers of individuals from particular groups of waterfowl, indicative of wetland values, productivity or diversity' (Criterion 3.b). [M Aminul Islam]

See also st martin’s island.