Bangladesh Braces for Oil Spill Impact

ENVIRONMENT

Oil from a wrecked tanker is creating a disaster in the waters of Bangladesh’s Sundarbans, the largest contiguous tidal mangrove forest in the world and a haven for a spectacular array of species, including rare dolphins and the endangered Bengal tiger. (Nat Geo News)

Use this activity to help students model an oil spill’s impact on mangrove trees.

Teachers, scroll down for a short list of key resources in our Teachers’ Toolkit.

Download this simple coloring page to better understand the biodiversity of the mangrove ecosystem. Check out this illustration on our website. Illustration by National Geographic

Download this simple coloring page to better understand the biodiversity of the mangrove ecosystem. Check out this illustration, and download a larger PDF version, on our website.
Illustration by National Geographic

Discussion Ideas

  • An oil spill is threatening the economic and environmental security of the Sundarbans, a region of “extraordinary biodiversity,” according to the Nat Geo News article. How are mangrove trees uniquely adapted to the Sundarbans? (Read the Nat Geo News article or the last two paragraphs in our encyclopedic entry on the physical geography of Asia, which are all about the Sundarbans!)
    • Mangroves thrive in brackish water. According to our encyclopedic entry, “mangroves are hardy trees that are able to withstand the powerful, salty tides of the Bay of Bengal as well as the freshwater flows from the Ganges and Brahamaputra Rivers.”
    • Mangroves have adapted to both aquatic and terrestrial soil. This means the trees help provide habitats for terrestrial species (such as monkeys and tigers), aquatic species (such as fish and crabs), and species that live and migrate through both habitats (such as insects and amphibians).

 

  • “In the short to medium term, plants with pneumatophores will struggle,” says Anurag Danda, head of the Sundarbans Program Office for WWF India. What are pneumatophores, and how will the oil spill impact them specifically? Read through our terrific, hands-on activity “Oil’s Impact on Black Mangrove Trees” for guidance.
    • A pneumatophore, also called an aerial root, is a snorkel-like plant root. Unlike most plant roots, pneumatophores grow above ground. In addition to mangroves, plants such as orchids, banyan, and even poison ivy have pneumatophores.
    • In our activity, students use everyday items such as straws, sand, and molasses to create their own “oil spill” in a hand-made mangrove environment. This is a great activity that allows students to create their own muddy mangrove swamp—and see how it responds to changes in weather or the ocean. Students will also understand how those factors (weather and ocean conditions) change the impact of an oil spill. Look in the “Preparation” tab for a complete list of materials.
      • FYI: The shadowy pneumatophores of mangrove species support rich tropical and subtropical biodiversity, and our activity applies to both the Gulf Coast of the United States and the Ganges Delta of Bangladesh. The black mangrove is indigenous only to the Americas and West Africa, however. Its sister species, the sundari mangrove, is the dominant tree in the Sundarbans, and the plant for which the region is named. A good way to tell the difference between these species is that the black mangrove lacks the twisting, overlapping prop roots common to the sundari.
Mangrove forests skirt the tropical and subtropical coasts of most continents. Map by National Geographic Maps

Mangrove forests skirt the tropical and subtropical coasts of most continents.
Map by National Geographic Maps

 

  • Read the Nat Geo News article and the final two paragraphs in our encyclopedic entry on the physical geography of Asia. Make a list of some of the animals likely to be affected by the oil spill.
    • These are just a few of the species mentioned in the article and encyclopedic entry. The Sundarbans is rich in biodiversity.
      Bengal tigers prowl the gnarled pneumatophores of the Sundarbans. Photograph by Steve Winter, National Geographic

      Bengal tigers prowl the gnarled pneumatophores of the Sundarbans.
      Photograph by Steve Winter, National Geographic

      Wild boars are prey to the Sundarbans tiger population, and predator to the swamp's mollusks and rodents. Photograph by Michael Nichols, National Geographic

      Wild boars are prey to the Sundarbans tiger population, and predator to the swamp’s mollusks and rodents.
      Photograph by Michael Nichols, National Geographic

      Can you spot the monitor lizard stalking the Sundarbans? I love this photo. Photograph by Rajib Singha, MyShot

      Can you spot the monitor lizard stalking the Sundarbans? I love this photo.
      Photograph by Rajib Singha, MyShot

      Pangolins are funny-looking mammals native to tropical parts of Africa and Asia, like this one in Sri Lanka. Pangolins are killed for their scales (used in medicines) and meat. Read our blog post on pangolin trafficking written for World Pangolin Day (third Saturday in February, mark you calendars). Photograph by Sandip Kumar, courtesy Wikimedia. CC-BY-SA-3.0

      Pangolins prey on the insects of the Sundarbans.
      Photograph by Sandip Kumar, courtesy Wikimedia. CC-BY-SA-3.0

       This adorable Irawaddy dolphin may be leaping for joy because it lives in the delta of the Mekong River and not the Ganges-Brahmaputra right now. Photograph by Dan Koehl, courtesy Wikimedia. CC-BY-3.0


      This adorable Irawaddy dolphin may be leaping for joy because it lives in the delta of the Mekong River and not the Ganges-Brahmaputra right now.
      Photograph by Dan Koehl, courtesy Wikimedia. CC-BY-3.0

      The Sundarbans are home to a spectacular bird population, including this green-billed malkoha. Photograph by M Abdullah Abu Diyan, courtesy Wikimedia. CC-BY-SA-3.0

      The Sundarbans are home to a spectacular bird population, including this green-billed malkoha.
      Photograph by M Abdullah Abu Diyan, courtesy Wikimedia. CC-BY-SA-3.0

      The Sundarbans are home to three species of crocodilians—the fearsome saltwater crocodile, the critically endangered gharial, and the mugger. The mugger, above, is a freshwater crocodile. Several species of deer, reflected in the water, are also indigenous to the Sundarbans. Photograph by George F. Mobley, National Geographic

      The Sundarbans are home to three species of crocodilians—the fearsome saltwater crocodile, the critically endangered gharial, and the mugger. The mugger, above, is a freshwater crocodile. Several species of deer, reflected in the water, are also indigenous to the Sundarbans.
      Photograph by George F. Mobley, National Geographic

      Hawksbill turtles like this one, along with olive ridley sea turtles and green turtles, swim the Sundarbans. Photograph by David Doubilet, National Geographic

      Hawksbill turtles like this one, along with olive ridley sea turtles and green turtles, swim the Sundarbans.
      Photograph by David Doubilet, National Geographic

      Indian pythons (and their rodent prey) are just one species of snake to slither across the Sundarbans. Photograph by James L. Stanfield, National Geographic

      Indian pythons (and their rodent prey) are just one species of snake to slither across the Sundarbans.
      Photograph by James L. Stanfield, National Geographic

      A mongoose and king cobra face off in the Sundarbans. Is this Rikki Tikki Tavi and Nag? Photograph by James P. Blair, National Geographic

      A mongoose and king cobra face off in the Sundarbans. Is this Rikki Tikki Tavi and Nag?
      Photograph by James P. Blair, National Geographic

      This is a gorgeous photo. The shadowy roots of a mangrove (this one is actually in Belize) provide a habitat for millions of silvery minnows . . . and shrimp, and clams, and crabs, and tiny little invertebrates that are nothing less than the basis of the food chain. Photograph by Brian J. Skerry, National Geographic

      This is a gorgeous photo. The shadowy roots of a mangrove (this one is actually in Belize) provide a habitat for millions of silvery minnows . . . and shrimp, and clams, and crabs, and tiny little invertebrates that are nothing less than the basis of the food chain.
      Photograph by Brian J. Skerry, National Geographic

      Rhesus macaques inhabit the mangroves from the sunny canopy to the watery roots. Photograph by George F. Mobley, National Geographic

      Rhesus macaques inhabit the mangroves from the sunny canopy to the watery roots.
      Photograph by George F. Mobley, National Geographic

      Crabs and mudskippers (the walking fish in this mangrove ecosystem in Gabon) may suffer the most from the Sundarbans oil spill. Photograph by Michael Nichols, National Geographic

      Crabs and mudskippers (the walking fish in this mangrove ecosystem in Gabon) may suffer the most from the Sundarbans oil spill.
      Photograph by Michael Nichols, National Geographic

       

 

  • Why is the Sundarbans region, which straddles India and Bangladesh, so vulnerable to an oil spill?
    • Lack of resources. “This catastrophe is unprecedented in the Sundarbans, and we don’t know how to tackle this,” Amir Hossain, chief forest official of the Sundarbans in Bangladesh, told reporters (including Nat Geo News). Another environmental scientist is quoted as saying “Possibly, there is no expertise to handle an oil spill in an estuary in this part of the world.”

 

TEACHERS’ TOOLKIT

Nat Geo: After Oil Spill in Bangladesh’s Unique Mangrove Forest, Fears About Rare Animals

Nat Geo: Oil’s Impact on Black Mangrove Trees

Nat Geo: Asia: Physical Geography

UNESCO World Heritage: Sundarbans National Park

One response to “Bangladesh Braces for Oil Spill Impact

  1. This blog post is very useful. It contains great information and you have described every point in good way with pictures. Thanks.

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