A total of 172 to 173 turtles were found entangled in illegal fishing nets along with the marine wastes
Plastics, rubber, wooden furniture, dead and alive turtles, snakes and crabs were scattered along the 10-km-long beach from Kobita Chattar to Himchori in Cox’s Bazar when hundreds of tons of marine debris washed ashore on July 11 and July 12.
It was the first time locals saw such a large volume of trash washing up onto the 120-kilometre beach along the Bay of Bengal, which took days for hundreds of volunteers to clean up.
Following the incident, a seven member probe committee, headed by Cox’s Bazar Additional Deputy Commissioner Mohammed Ashraful Afsar, of experts and scientists was formed to find out how such an environmental disaster took place in the tourist beach town.
Examining the debris, experts found that most of these wastes were produced in Bangladesh and used by locals, whereas a small portion of those were dumped into the sea from international ships.
To their surprise, only 7% to 8% are organic waste, such as seeds of different plants, seasoned furniture, pieces of bamboo, green coconuts, coconuts and their stems, among others.
A major portion of the marine debris contained plastic wastes, including plastic drums, buckets, baskets, ropes, pipes, television covers, toilet commodes, plastic buoys, HDPE (high density polyethylene) pipes, and small pieces of plastic.
These plastic materials, which turtles and some fishes sometimes consume mistaking these to be fish eggs, can be deadly for them.
Besides, the fishing nets, rubber sandals, and medical wastes found in the debris were found to be used and produced locally.
Only bottles of foreign liquor, such as Rockland, Thai Sang, IBTC, GR, DCSL, Seagram, Royal Stag, found on the beach might have been used and disposed of by foreign nationals and fishing ships at deep sea.
A total of 172 to 173 turtles were found entangled in illegal fishing nets, widely known as “current jal,” along with the marine wastes.
Of them, 125 turtles were freed instantly, while 25 injured and weak turtles were released one or two days later deep in the sea after providing treatment.
Besides, some 22 to 23 turtles were found dead and without legs. They were buried near the coast.
How turtles and fishes found in debris die?
The turtles found on the coast were Olive Ridley Sea Turtles [Lepidochelys Olivacea] and Green Sea Turtles [Chelonia Mydas]. These turtles usually come ashore to lay eggs from June to April, and may have floated along with the waste due to weakness and injuries.
As per autopsy reports, the dead ones had old bruises, while the lungs of some turned extremely red and internal muscles slightly compressed.
The autopsy confirmed that the turtles died of intestinal inflammation, anorexia nervosa (eating disorder) and cachexia (weakness and wasting of the body due to severe chronic illness) as they were starving for a long time.
Bangladesh Fisheries Research Institute also tested the water of Dorianagar beach and found it to be normal.
Ashraful Haque, senior scientific officer at Bangladesh Fisheries Research Institute, told Dhaka Tribune: “Naked eye examinations as well as machine examinations found no pollution in water. Due to the super tide turtles got entangled with the fishing nets, and turned weak and died.”
Seven snakes from four species were also found alive in the debris. Of them one was the yellow-bellied sea snake (hydrophis platurus) while the three are yet to be identified.
The snakes were released from nets and other wastes.
Moray Eels fishes were also found.
“These fishes were living inside plastic pipes, as they like to live inside holes. When the wastes were thrown onto beach sand, they couldn’t come out of the pipes. They stayed there for over 12 hours and died,” said Ashraful Haque, mentioning they did not die for pollution.
Experts also found lepas anserifera, a species of goose barnacles which are filter-feeding crustaceans that live attached to hard surfaces of rocks and flotsam in the ocean intertidal zone, attached to plastic drums, nylon ropes, liquor bottles, and bamboo pieces.
Where did this debris come from?
The probe body found multiple probable causes behind floating of debris ashore.
They analyzed different things — airflow, depth of sea, current, waste gyre — to find the origin of these wastes.
Some of the experts believe the wastes that were washed ashore were very old and parts of it came from “huge or little waste gyres.”
Litter like chips and sauce packets, plastic cups, shoes, and medical wastage were washed into the sea through Matamuhuri, Bakkhali and Naf, including the canal, while some from the dumping station on Bakkhali river bank, according to the probe report.
A great part of this debris— plastic drums to carry drinking water and fuel— were made by the fishermen in the sea.
Besides, the fishing nets at times are torn by sea currents or cut by fishermen when an unwanted marine life gets entangled to it.
Dr Mohammad Al-Amin, professor at the Institute of Forestry and Environmental Sciences at Chittagong University, thoroughly observed the wastes and their patterns.
“The garbage was thrown from coastal fishing ships and boats, and local cargo ships. Some were thrown by tourists,” he said, while talking to Dhaka Tribune.
He, however, showed dissidence over the report that some of them floated from waste gyre.
Besides, the marine current towards Cox’s Bazar was much more forceful, from July 01 to July 12, than the previous two years.
Moreover, proactive Maheshkhali channel and tide coming through it helped this debris to stay comparatively in a static place and then herd ashore.
According to tides4fishing.com, the height of the tide was highest in the second week of July, compared to the last three years.
However, the probe committee has made a 10-point recommendation, including locating waste gyre in the sea, forming a waste management project to identify waste source coming through rivers, enlisting all the Bangladeshi fishing boats for overseeing their inventory, establishing a hospital for the treatment of injured marine animals, and forming an international joint marine waste management committee, among others.
“We will send the report to the concerned ministry within a week to implement the recommendations,” said Cox's Bazar Deputy Commissioner (DC) Md Kamal Hossain.
“We have gathered 10 NGOs [working on environmental protection] and will work with them so that the fishermen can become aware and not kill marine lives,” he added.