The Bangladesh Forest Department (BFD) under the Ministry for Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC) is enabled to manage the Sundarbans in a sustainable manner through co-management by involving local resource users, efficient and standardised patrolling, and a proper ecological monitoring.
The largely undisturbed Sundarbans mangrove forests in Bangladesh remains one of the last habitats of a healthy population of the endangered Bengal Tigers, 315 different bird species and endangered river dolphins. This area encompasses about 6,000 square kilometres of primary forest, which, together with the smaller Indian part, is the largest closed canopy mangrove forest in the world. This “Sundarbans Reserved Forest” is largely declared a UNESCO world heritage site and RAMSAR site.
The Sundarbans provides essential ecological services. 4.5 million people live in villages along the outer boundary of the Sundarbans. Their livelihoods depend on fishing, honey collecting and wood cutting, which means that they are highly dependent on the forest. By acting as spawning and nursery ground for different fish, shrimp and other aquatic animals, the Sundarbans highly contribute to the fish stocks of the Bay of Bengal. The conservation of the Sundarbans is thus also a matter of regional and international food security.
The direct resource users are little involved in the management of the forests. Although there are no permanent settlements within the forests, human activities continue to affect the Sundarbans. Unsustainable fishing and wildlife poaching are threatening the ecosystem. Pollution by harmful agricultural practices and increasing industrial developments in the nearby hinterland are putting further pressure on the forest reserve.
For world heritage sites UNESCO requires systematic ecological monitoring in order to assess and predict possible impacts of direct human activities and natural changes in the reserves. There is a need for an upgraded monitoring system in place. The project aims to involve the local communities in protecting this vast area of mangrove forests.
Built on best practices and lessons learnt from the preceding project, the Support to the Management of the Sundarbans Mangrove Forests in Bangladesh (SMP II) project is practicing a multiple-level approach:
The main target groups are poor communities and direct resource users including landless people. The strengthening of co-management structures in the Sundarbans with special emphasis on the role of women is expected to enhance the conservation and sustainable use of the forest resources. Well-organised user groups are enabled to claim their rights and understand the benefits of conservation. They are encouraged to collaborate with the forest department and service providers and funding agencies. Women play a key-role in this process.
In-depth knowledge of the regulations and rules in the Sundarbans are not only essential for the rangers but also for the resource users. Both groups participate in events such as “Fish for Future Fairs”. With the experience and input of all stakeholders, the project is working on an updated version of the official Integrated Resource Management Plan (IRMP 2030) towards sustainability and conservation of the Sundarbans.
The frontline ranger and a pool of master-trainer of the Forest Department will receive training in using the “Spatial Monitoring and Reporting Tool (SMART)” which was successfully tested in the previous phase of the project. The tool collects, stores and analyses data on illegal activities, biodiversity, patrol routes and fishing gears. Experiences will be used for a national strategy for SMART.
The introduction of systematic Ecological Monitoring (EM) in the Sundarbans is new and will essentially help to assess and predict possible impacts on the ecosystem and to develop adequate responses. Moreover, EM is a conditional requirement for UNESCO heritage sites. The project will establish a model of EM, which will be ready for upscaling to the entire Sundarbans. A capable technical workgroup at the Forest Department is overseeing the quality and further developments in EM.
Forest managers and other decision makers will be able to justify their decisions on the data collected. At the forest department, a specialised unit (RIMS) will manage this data platform.