Imagine if someone built two giant coal-fired power plants right next to the last livable place in your country. How terrible would this be?
That is what the Bangladesh government is planning to do near the Sundarbans, the largest intact mangrove forest on Earth -- and the only sizeable mangrove area left for the globally endangered Bengal Tiger (Panthera tigris tigris) -- which likely numbers less than 2,500 animals alive today.
The Bengal Tigers and their mangrove habitats in the Sundarbans are now under imminent threat. The Bangladesh government has recently signed a $1.7 billion agreement with an Indian corporation, Bharat Heavy Electrics, to build the massive Rampal coal-fired power plant.
Comprising two giant coal-fired generators just a dozen or so kilometers from the Sundarbans, the power plant will degrade the environment via air pollution and fly ash, unregulated increased resource extraction, road and infrastructure expansion, and the risk of spillage of coal and its by-products on site and during transportation.
This proposed development has raised the ire of civil society, many scientists, and global conservation groups (see here and here). Both UNESCO and the IUCN have urged the Bangladesh government to move the power plant to another suitable area to limit its environmental threats to the Sundarbans.
So great are such perils that the government of Sri Lanka cancelled an agreement with the same Indian corporation to build a similar but smaller coal-fired power plant in its eastern port city of Trincomalee, largely because of concerns about the environmental threats it posed.
A Sanctuary for Nature and People
In addition to providing critical habitat for Bengal Tigers, the Sundarbans harbor many other rare or endangered species, such as the Estuarine Crocodile, Indian Python, and the Ganges and Irrawaddy Dolphins.
Moreover, more than one million local people depend on natural resources from the Sundarbans to sustain their livelihoods -- and rely on this natural barrier for protection against calamities such as destructive tropical monsoons and tsunamis.
The Sundarbans is already facing threats from climate change and local human-caused disasters. But one thing is for certain, the proposed coal-fired power plant would further imperil Earth's last remaining mangrove habitat for Bengal Tigers and other rare wildlife.