Dhaka, Nov 03 – The Sundarbans, a Unesco World Heritage Site, reopened its door to tourists on Sunday after a seven-month closure because of the ongoing pandemic.
On the first day of reopening, 700-800 visitors entered the world’s largest mangrove forest on 16-17 ships, the tour operators said.
With this, the Sundarbans-based tourism industry has come back to life.
Earlier, a meeting of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change was held on October 19 over the reopening, sources at the Sundarbans Forest Department said.
The meeting participants decided to reopen the Sundarbans from November 1 ahead of the upcoming tourist season.
On March 19, to contain the spread of Covid-19, the Forest Department announced a temporary restriction on movement of tourists and boats in the Sundarbans.
The ban was maintained across the eastern and western Sundarbans until further notice.
However, during the peak time for the Sundarbans tourism – from November to March every year – 45,000 plus tourists visit nine areas of the mangrove forest.
And the sudden ban on visiting the forest caused trouble for the visitors staying in the tourist centers inside it.
Also, the ban threw the tour operators and traders into a financial crisis. So, they carried out different programmes demanding the reopening of the Sundarbans.
Nazmul Azam David, managing director of Rupantar Eco-Tourism Limited, said the tourism sector of the Sundarbans lost about Tk20 crore in the last seven months.
Masum Babu, a tourist visiting the Sundarbans, said, “It feels great to be here after a long time. The forest has changed a lot as no tourist could visit it in the last seven months.”
Md Moinul Islam Jamaddar, president of the Tour Operators’ Association of the Sundarbans, said the health rules are being maintained for the 700-800 tourists who entered the eastern and western Sundarbans on Sunday.
East Sundarbans Divisional Forest Officer Mohammad Belayet Hossain said the tourists must wear masks before entering the forest. “The Forest Department has also taken strong actions to ensure social distancing and the use of hand sanitizer.”
West Sundarbans Divisional Forest Officer Abu Naser Mohsin said although the Sundarbans was reopened for visitors on Sunday, no ship is being allowed to carry more than 50 tourists.
Mohammad Moinuddin Khan, forest conservator of Khulna region, said tourists are being allowed to enter the Sundarbans only after following health rules. “And legal action will be taken against the tour operators or tourists for violating the rules.” – UNB