Tourism: A socio-economic approach for biodiversity conservation in coastal Bangladesh

--Md. Mozaharul Islam Conservator of Forest Social Forest Circle, Dhaka Department of Forest

15. Mozaharul islam

The powerful forces that shape the essence of tourism, including the human urge to see and experience the natural world, must continue to be harnessed to support the achievement of the goals of the Convention on Biological Diversity.

The tourism industry represents one of the main sectors in the global economy, often referred to as the world’s largest single industry. Harnessing the opportunities and dealing with the challenges of the largest ongoing migration of people in history is of utmost importance, and is particularly significant for developing countries. Tourism activities provide bridges and links between various thematic programmes, such as island biodiversity, marine and coastal biodiversity, forests, and invasive species, are crucial to a complementary approach to tourism issues.

The activities of tourism should be consistent with the principles of conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity. These include, but are not limited to, conventional mass tourism, ecotourism, nature- and culture-based tourism, heritage and traditional tourism, cruise tourism, leisure and sports tourism.

Ecotourism and Livelihoods

TOURISM has demonstrated resiliency in the face of the global economic downturn. Globally, the tourism industry generated more than $1 trillion in 2010, according to the World Tourism Organization (WTO). And the share of tourism in developing countries is steadily rising, up from 31% in 1990 to 47% in 2010.

“Sustainable tourism has proven one of the most effective ways of providing economic and employment opportunities for local communities while protecting the world’s natural resources,” said WTO’s Secretary-General.

Ecotourism, characterized by responsible travel to natural areas that promotes conservation of the environment, is one of the fastest growing segments of tourism worldwide, and is growing at a pace of more than 20 percent annually – two to three times faster than the tourism industry overall.

“For many people, there is an attitude of “we had better see it while it is still there to see” when it comes to visiting threatened forests or endangered wildlife,” said Patrick Durst, a senior forestry official with the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), working in Asia.

Local benefits

Ecotourism can provide local communities with motivation to maintain and protect forests and wildlife. When local people get income and employment from ecotourism, they are far less likely to destroy the natural resources through unsustainable exploitation.

“Ecotourism has a far greater potential for contributing to income and livelihoods in poor rural communities than what is realized,” noted FAO’s Edgar Kaeslin, Forestry Officer in Wildlife and Protected Area Management. “It is crucial that local people are fully involved in the activities and receive sufficient benefits.”

The benefits of ecotourism flowing to local businesses are dramatically higher than those from mass tourism. Standard all-inclusive package tours typically deliver just 20 percent of revenue to local companies, while the rest is captured by airlines, hotels and large tour companies, whereas locally-based ecotourism operations that hire locally and are based locally can return as much as 95 percent of earnings into the local economy.

Biodiversity in Bangladesh contributes significantly to the country’s economy. The people of Bangladesh depend on biodiversity for their day-to-day sustenance as well as overall livelihood security. For example, over 60 million people are dependent on aquatic resources every day. One million people are full-time fisher folk and another 11 million have taken to part-time fishing in the country. Fifty to sixty-five per cent of the country’s protein requirement is met by the consumption of fish. The fisheries sector contributes about 4.24% of the GDP of Bangladesh, earning more than 11% or more of the total export revenue, and employs 5% of the country’s total work force. The agriculture sector provides 63.5% of the country’s employment, contributing a considerable 14.39% to the GDP. Of the sector’s contribution to the GDP, approximately 11.12% is covered by the forestry. The various forestry-related projects in the country together generate 90 million person-days of job opportunities every year. The Sundarbans provides livelihood and employment to an estimated 112,000 people. With more than 150 million people, a population growth rate of 1.48%, and a population density of more than 1000 people per square kilometer, the pressure on the nation’s natural resources is tremendous.

Coastal and Marine Biodiversity

Worldwide, Bangladesh is best known for its extensive coastal and marine ecosystems. The Sundarbans is of global importance as the largest mangrove forest in the world and the Cox’s Bazar is distinguished as the world’s longest beach.

A large number of offshore islands are scattered in the Bay of Bengal. Narikel Jinjira is the only coral island of Bangladesh, and therefore it is of significance in the context of coastal and marine ecosystems. Estuarine flood plains, sand dunes and beaches characterize the coastal ecosystems of Bangladesh.

Sundarbans: An unique, and diverse mangrove ecosystem

The Bangladesh Sundarbans is spread over an area of 6000km2 of which 4143 km2 is classified as land and 1874 km2 as water bodies. It is one of the most diverse mangrove ecosystems of the world. Back in 1903, Prain had identified 334 species of plants  but currently, Sundri (Heretiera fomes) and Gewa (Excoecaria agallocha) are the dominant species. The Sundarbans is currently the last abode of some of South Asia’s threatened mega fauna including the Bengal tiger (Panthera tigris), Gangetic dolphin (Platanista gangetica), Irawaddy dolphin (Orcaella brevirostris), saltwater crocodile (Crocodilus porosus). In all, 425 species of vertebrate animals (excluding fish) have been reported from this ecosystem. Important birds include the masked fin foot (Heliopais personata) and the globally threatened lesser adjutant stork (Leptoptilus javanicus). The 176 species of fish that are known from the mangroves of the Sundarbans, render this ecosystem one of the ‘hot spots’ of Bangladesh’s fish diversity.

Marine Biodiversity

The Bay of Bengal, the marine area of Bangladesh, is endowed with the presence of a semi-enclosed tropical basin. It is considered as a Large Marine Ecosystem. Along with the 710 km long coastline, an area of more than 166,000 km2 of the Bay of Bengal falls under the economic jurisdiction of Bangladesh. The country’s shelf area covers roughly 66,000 km2 and coastal waters are shallow with less than 10 m depth covering about 24,000 km2. Though the marine ecosystems have hardly been explored and investigated, some information on the species types and their interaction is available.

Nineteen species of seaweeds are found along Bangladesh’s coasts. Among them, the Hypnea spp. is the most abundant. A total of 475 fish species have been recorded from the marine waters of Bangladesh. The fish species that are presently exploited consist mainly of the demersal fishes (feed on or near the bottom of Sea or lake), shallow water estuarine species and some mid-water species. These include about 100 commercial species, of which 15 species are highly commercial, contributing about 75% of the total demersal exploitation. Generally, five species of marine turtles travel in the Bangladesh marine territory. Among them, the Olive Ridley is the major nesting species all over, from the Sundarbans to St. Martin’s Island. Green Turtles nest only in a few places. St. Martin’s Island is the only spot in Bangladesh where the Hawksbill comes to nest. The important species of sharks and rays are also recorded. About 36 species of shrimps have been recorded from the marine waters of Bangladesh among which the brown shrimp contributes about 56% of the total shrimp catch.

The rich marine biodiversity not only directly contributes in maintaining the quality of the life and livelihood of the people of Bangladesh but also provide important resources base for the country. Around one million people are directly dependent on the marine resources for their livelihood.

Coastal Plantation

After a cyclone devastated the coastal region in the 1960s except for Khulna District, which is protected by the Sundarbans coastal afforestation with mangrove species was initiated to protect life and property from cyclones and tidal surges.  Later, industrial raw material and fuelwood production, conservation of coastal ecosystem and the environment, protection of wildlife and aquatic resources, protection of agricultural land against salt intrusion, tourism, poverty reduction and enhancing land accretion were added to the objectives of development programmes. In this context, over the last four decades the Forest Department has successfully implemented several massive projects and has established some 175 000 hectares of mangrove plantations scattered over on- and offshore areas, mostly along the central part of the coast.  One National park and two Wildlife sanctuaries have been established in mangrove plantation area. Mangrove plantation area harbours various fish and bird species.

The rich intertidal mudflats are extremely important as wintering areas for migratory waterfowl. Surveys have counted over 100,000 birds of 61 species. The area gains international significance because at least three globally threatened species use the area in significant numbers. About 300 Tringa gutiffer (Nordmann’s Greenshank) live on mudflats near Jiryira dwip. This number accounts for an estimated 30 percent of the world population of the species. This area supports about 257 of the very rare and globally threatened Eurynorhynchus pygmaeus (Spoon billed Sandpipers) the largest concentration of this specie, away from its breeding ground. Two more threatened species Limnodromus semipalmatus (Asian Dowitcher) and Rynchops albicollis (Indian Skimmer) have been located in this area.

Tourism Sites in Coastal Bangladesh:

Important Tourism sites are categorized as follows:

Beach sites

v          Patenga: The Patenga beach at Chittagong is one of the most popular beaches of Bangladesh, stretching for miles near at the meeting place of the Bay of Bengal and the river Karnaphuli. Nature lovers come around here to enjoy the scenic beach area to gateway from busy city life and breath in fresh air.

v          Parki: Parki beach is situated in Gahira, Anwara thana under southern Chittagong region. The beach lies about 28 km. away from Chittagong city. As the beach is situated at the Karnaphuli river channel, visitors can view both the Karnaphuli river and the sea together.

v          Cox’s Bazar: Golden sands – miles after miles, overlooked by genteel cliffs and awash with foaming waves, colorful conch shells, ponderous pagodas, delicious seafood- this is Cox’s Bazar. The sea-side tourist township of Bangladesh boasting the world’s longest (120km) unbroken beach sloping gently down into the blue water of the Bay of Bengal- Cox’s Bazar is one of the most attractive tourist spots of the country.

v          Teknaf: Teknaf, a romantic old-world border township in the southern tip of Bangladesh territory looking up to the Myanmar high hill ranges across the river Naf. Teknaf is 85 km from Cox’s Bazar by road and 120 km by the beach along the sea. One can reach there by public transport that leaves Cox’s Bazar every hour. It is about 2 hours’ journey each way.

v          Kuakata: Cooing Kuakata, the lowland lass of Latachapli in the sea-facing south of Bangladesh is 70 km. from Patuakhali District Headquarters and 320 km. from the Capital City of Dhaka. Here on the Bay, nature left to nature is the up and coming tourist hamlet of Kuakata with cool and kind holidaying kiss.

Island sites

v          Moheshkhali: An island off the coast of Cox’s Bazar, Moheskhali has an area of 268 sq. km. Through the center of the island and along the eastern coastline rises a range of low-hills, about 300 feet high, but the coast to the west and north is low-lying and fringed by mangrove forest. Atop Moinak Hill lies the old temple of Adinath, dedicated to Shiva. By its side on the same hill is a Buddhist pagoda.

v          St. Martin: Forty-eight kilometers from Teknaf, St. Martin’s is the country’s only coral island and an unspoilt paradise. Named Narikel Jinjira (Coconut Island) by the locals, the dumbbell shaped St.Martin’s has an area of only 8 sq. km. which reduces to about 5 sq. km. and in places from 1-4 meters during high tide.

v          Sonadia Island: Sonadia Island lies in the bay about seven km. off Cox’s Bazar and is only 9 sq. km. in area. The western side of the island is sandy and different kinds of shells are found on the beach. Off the northern part of the island, there are beds of window pane oysters. During winter, fishermen set up temporary camps on the island and dry their catches of sea-fish.

v          Nijhum Deep (Hatia): The island is situated between Noakhali and Bhola under Hatiya upazila in Noakhali District. It is declared as National Park. A surreal vision grows on traveler eyes when they enjoy sprinkling moment with uncovered nature: Spotted deer, Migratory birds, Monkeys, Estuary reported to harbor the Ganges River Dolphin include Clawless Otter, Fishing Cat, Snakes, Tortoises and Turtles.

v          Char Kukri Mukri: Man-made mangrove forest, declared as wildlife sanctuary. Lies on Char Kukri-Mukri Island, in southern Charfession Upazilla, Bola District, some 130km from Barisal Town in the Gangetic Delta of southern Bangladesh. Accessible by road or riverine transport from Dhaka up to Barisal. Then go to Bhola by road. From Bhola go 2.5 hours by road towards the Char, then take 1/2 hour boat ride on local craft. Egrets, Fishing Cat, Small-clawed Otter, Heron, Bitterns and Grey Pelican are remarkable wildlife. Jungle safari is adventurous.


Natural forest estuary- confluence tourism site, located about 320 km.south-west of   Dhaka and spread over an area of about 60000 sq, km of deltaic swamps along  the  coastal belt of Khulna, the Sundarbans is the world’s biggest mangrove forest , home of the Royal Bengal tiger. These dense mangrove forests are criss-crossed by a network of rivers and creeks. UNESCO has declared the Sundarban a World Heritage site that it offers splendid opportunities for tourism.

National Tourism Policy/ Bangladesh

The National Tourism Policy was declared in 1992. Its main objectives are:

l           To create interest in tourism among the people.

l           To preserve, protect, develop and maintain tourism resources.

l           To take steps for poverty-alleviation through creating employment.

l           To build a positive image of the country abroad.

l           To open up a recognized sector for private capital investment.

l           To arrange entertainment and recreation.

l           To strengthen national solidarity and integrity.

In line with the policy, the Government provides incentives to attract private sector partners. The incentives include tax-holiday, loans, concession rates for taxes and duties and in specific cases, allotment of land etc.

A strategic Master Plan for Tourism Development was prepared by UNDP/ WTO in 1990. It is being updated by WTO. Besides, the Government has taken steps to establish, Special Tourist Zones (STZ) at Cox’s Bazar, Sundarbans and Kuakata. In the meantime a primary field survey has been conducted for Kuakata . The Government has taken initiative to exploit the eco-tourism potential of the country for sustainable tourism development.

Statements of National Forest Policy

Conservation of biological diversity and ecotourism has been given importance in the National Forest Policy about 20 years back. Relevant statements are as follows:

n          The priority protection areas are the habitats, which encompass representative samples of flora and fauna in the core area of National Parks, Wildlife Sanctuaries and Game Reserves. Attempts will be made to increase the amount of this protected area by 10% of the reserved forest land by the year 2015.

n          Ecotourism, related to forest and wildlife, is recognized as forestry related activity, which will be promoted taking into consideration the carrying capacity of nature.

Tourist arrival to the Sundarbans

Many tourists approach Sundarbans for to witness the wilderness of the Sundarbans, This number is increasing day by day. But the arrival of international tourists is not satisfactory yet. Although it is of high potential for ecotourism, arrival of international tourists is not satisfactory yet. However, visit of local tourist in the Sundarbans is outstanding.

Revenue Collection through Ecotourism in the Sundarbans

Revenue collection through ecotourism in the Sundarbans is significant and increasing day by day, has a great role in the economic contribution as well as conservation effort. Following table shows revenue collection from Sundarbans through ecotourism during last few years.

Tourism as an alternative job opportunity

East Dhangmari village, the study area, is situated at the entrance of the Sundarbans. Tourists went in Sundarbans from Mongla and Khulna through the Posur river and this village is located at the right side just back of the Dhangmari Forest Camp. They also built two organizations for tourism: Sundarbans handicraft organization and Sundarbans cultural organization. There are around ten people involve in Sundarbans cultural organization. They perform cultural shows when tourists visit. Representative of tour operator inform them in advance so that they can prepare themselves. They organize cultural shows which include drama, songs, and different types of game. Maximum drama and song are related to Sundarbans. They also show in the drama how people of this community survive during big cyclone. Their accompanied guides translate these from bengali to English. After finishing cultural show the visitors give tips to these organizations. Sometimes tourist boat hires them for two-day, three-day or four-day trips. They can earn minimum one thousand and maximum ten thousand taka per show. When the tourist boats hire them for any trip, they give more money. It’s also their alternative source of income and entertainment for them. Most of the foreign tourists have interest to visit any village around to see lifestyle and socio-economic condition of Sundarbans dependent community. The foreign tourists want to buy souvenirs like different types of handicrafts made from the products from Sundarbans and Sundarbans picturesque card.

Table 3: Household income from tourist activity

Source: Iqball et al. 2010

CBD Guidelines on Biodiversity and Tourism Development

International guidelines for activities related to sustainable tourism development in vulnerable terrestrial, marine and coastal ecosystems and habitats of major importance for biological diversity and protected areas, including fragile riparian and mountain ecosystems. The CBD Guidelines are voluntary and represent a range of opportunities for local, regional, national governments, indigenous and local communities and other stakeholders to manage tourism activities in an ecological, economic and socially sustainable manner. They can be flexibly applied to suit different circumstances and domestic institutional and legal settings.


Recent economic scenario around the globe shows that tourism is a giant field for economic flow to buffer financial spasm in recession. Ecotourism is the specialized field to ooze revenue support implementing sound management plan towards nature and biodiversity conservation.  Synchronization of revenue earning, peoples participation and conservation effort is the need of time to safeguard forest biodiversity, pristine beauty and human race.  Appropriate policy fortified with sound management plan and financial support can make a great difference.  Forest Directorate with donors support has taken a massive stride for the conservation of Bengal Tiger, forests’ biodiversity and economic welfare of the local community through different projects in the Sunderbans and other costal areas.