However, the biodiversity and ecosystem of the world’s largest mangrove forest is still under threat because of the pollution resulted from the increasing urbanisation and industrialisation of the surrounding areas, the scientists warned.
The study, titled “Investigating microplastics and its effects on the ecosystem of the Sunderbans,” is being conducted by the department of chemistry of Dhaka University in collaboration with Linköping University, Sweden.
Prof Nilufar Nahar, chairperson of the department of chemistry, is supervising the research, which is funded by the Ministry of Science and Technology.
The study aims to determine the level of chemical contamination in the forest as no such research has been done before, said Prof Mohammad Shoeb, member of the team conducting the study.
“From what we have found so far, the presence of harmful microplastics is negligible in the Sundarbans,” he told the Dhaka Tribune.
However, the findings are based on very small samples collected from selected areas in the forest, he warned.
Samples were collected in May this year; 15 sediment samples were collected from Karamjal Point, the Rupsha River, Mongla seaport and the areas surrounding the Sundarbans, while 30 water samples were collected from 10 different places and 11 fish samples from the surrounding areas, researchers said.
“We began our investigation on a very small scale for preliminary data. The areas that we studied turned out to be negligibly contaminated, perhaps because the samples were collected during the monsoon and river current was strong, washing away the pollutants,” Shoeb told the Dhaka Tribune.
He led a team of four members to present the preliminary findings at the Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry Conference, the largest environmental chemistry conference in Asia, held on September 17-19 in Singapore.
In order to get more specific information on microplastic pollution and its impact on the forest’s ecosystem, more time and study covering larger areas is necessary, he told the Dhaka Tribune. “We will need at least three years of research in order to come up with the final findings.”
However, the preliminary study found presence of other pollutants, especially DDT and lead. The researchers said it was most likely due to the human population living in the sample areas.
What are microplastics?
According to the United Nations Environment Programme (Unep), microplastics are plastic particles smaller than five milimetres in diameter. In the last 40 years, the concentration of microplastics has increased significantly in the surface waters of the ocean.
“We use plastics in everything we use in our day-to-day life, unaware of the serious effects it has on both the environment and humans,” Prof Nilufar Nahar, who is supervising the study, told the Dhaka Tribune.
“This research on the Sundarbans is first of its kind in Bangladesh and very timely and important. It will help us find the extent of the pollution and identify the steps to prevent contamination of the Sundarbans,” she added.
“Development of industrial infrastructure in the areas surrounding the Sundarbans has increased over the years, posing potential threat to this unique ecosystem. The plastic waste discharged by the industries ends up in the Bay of Bengal, and some of it passes through the Sundarbans, affecting its ecosystem,” said Shoeb. “Precautions must be taken to minimise contamination of this system.”