Ecotourism as alternative livelihood at Saint Martin’s

Dr Md Anowar Hossain Bhuiyan

Saint Martin’s Island is the only small coral island of Bangladesh. It is located in the northeast part of the Bay of Bengal, and about 9 km south of the Cox’s Bazar-Teknaf peninsula. The local name of the island is ‘Narikel Jinjira.’ The island is declared as ‘Ecologically Critical Areas (ECA)’ to embark upon the global Convention of Biological Diversity (CBD). There are nearly 7,000 inhabitants in this small island of a 12-square-kilometre area. The island is a good example of co-occurrence of corals, algae, sea weeds, grasses and mangroves. So far, 14 species of algae have been recorded from the Saint Martin’s Island.
The total beach length of the island is about 14 kilometres. A very small length of about two kilometres (14 percent) is suitable and is visited by nesting turtles. Around 3,000 tourists arrive every day during the peak hours of tourist season with the best weather in November to February. Corals and clear blue water have attracted a number of tourists to the charming beauty and clean and tidy marine life of this island. Local authorities recently introduced scuba diving and speedboat sailing to attract more tourists, and there are more plans to bring water skiing and other sporting facilities to the island. About 90 percent inhabitants of this island live on everyday fishing in the bay. Local people also collect stones and rocks for selling to the visitors. Some others also live on construction works. Rice and coconuts are the other crops, and algae is collected and dried from the sea rocks and sold for consumption to Myanmar.
Saint Martin’s Island has been identified for protection and management under the National Conservation Strategy of Bangladesh. Ecotourism is the suitable tourism form to protect and maintain the biodiversity of this island as well as to ensure an alternative livelihood means for the local communities. This tourism form has a comparatively low impact on environment, is non-destructive and benefits the locally based communities who also control it. Some strategies are appropriate to develop ecotourism for ensuring alternative livelihood of local communities.
Firstly, potential tourism attractions should be identified to mitigate negative environmental effects caused by the recreational activities of tourists. We should conserve the threatened reef resources and develop alternative livelihoods for those who are depending on these resources. Secondly, we should integrate the rights of local communities to use and manage natural resources and ensure the use of profit from tourism. This can successfully be done with the active participation of local people for the conservation of natural resources. We should also opt for strengthening the capacities of local communities for resource management to optimize the benefits from existing resources. Active consultations of local communities can provide learning opportunities and understanding the conservation and tourism activities.
Thirdly, ecotourism should be maintained with links to agriculture to promote agriculture and cultural products. Thus, it can increase revenue to give economic benefit to the local communities. Government should provide assistance for sustainable harvesting and fishing to reduce environmental pollution in this island. Fourthly, the local communities should be much involved in the ecotourism related services (such as accommodation, food, transportation, souvenir products marketing) and tourist guides occupation in place of their previous jobs. These involvements will increase their capabilities and skills, enrich rural lives, and provide assistance in tourism business.
Finally, community based conservation programmes for biodiversity can protect the natural resources and enhance ecotourism activities for sustainable livelihood. Government should impose entrance fee from the tourists who visit this lucrative coral island and distribute the portion of collections to the local communities in order to develop their livelihood. Modern mechanisms such as willingness to pay (WTP) and payment for ecosystem services (PES) will be encouraging the ecotourism development at Saint Martin’s Island.r
Dr Md Anowar Hossain Bhuiyan teaches at National University, Bangladesh. He is also working as Ecotourism Expert at Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment (NRE) in Malaysia. Email: anowaranu@yahoo.com