December 2014: Oil Spill in the Chandpai Wildlife Sanctuary for Freshwater Dolphins in the Eastern Sundarbans Reserved Forest

On December 9th at around 5:00 AM a tanker bringing Heavy Fuel Oil from Khulna to a power plant in Gopalganj was hit by another vessel in the fog in the Chandpai Wildlife Sanctuary for Freshwater Dolphins in the Eastern Sundarbans Reserved Forest. A major gash was made in the hull on the port side near the bow and the ship sank such that only its stern was sticking above the surface. The WCS Bangladesh Program mobilized as soon as we received the news. One of our staff arrived at the spill site 4.1 km downstream of Chandpai just before sunset. He noted a thick carpet of oil on the water surface and that the oil was still leaking from the vessel. By the afternoon of December 10th the oil had spread at least 20 km upstream to Mongla and at least 30 km downstream to Harintana Forest Department Patrol Post. We also documented oil trails and clumps several kilometers upstream in small side channels between Chandpai and Harintana, and trails, patches, clumps, spots and sheens of oil between Mongla and Chandpai. Almost all floating objects, including clumps of water hyacinth, were covered on the bottom portion with a gooey residue. The same black residue could be seen on the pier pilings for at least a half meter in the falling tide. Large patches and trails of oil were concentrated at confluences and meanders due to the same hydraulic properties that make them hotspots of abundance for freshwater dolphins. We observed a single Ganges River dolphin surfacing at the Chilla confluence and then another two at the Nandabala Forest Department Patrol Post in the entrance to the Shela channel of the Chandpai Wildlife Sanctuary. Both dolphins surfaced too far away to determine whether or not they were surfacing directly in a slick or oil trail. No immediate short-term effects were noted on the health of the dolphins but problems may occur later from long-term exposure to the oil and/or from declines in their fish and crustacean prey. At about 5:00 PM the oil had almost stopped flowing from the tanker. No immediate effects were observed on any other wildlife except for one intermediate egret that was slightly oiled but still able to fly.

The following day, December 11th, the partially sunken tanker was raised and carried/floated by two additional vessels, one on each side, to the shore just upstream of the Chandpai Forest Station. A minor trail of oil was seen behind the broken tanker but this appeared to be mostly oil that had collected on the deck versus an additional leak coming from the tanker.

The tanker was reportedly carrying about 350,000 liters of heavy furnace oil. The Navy personnel told us that only a couple of hundred liters of oil remained in the ship. So we can assume that virtually all the oil escaped into the Shela channel and spread from there throughout the large and small waterways, and flooded forests and swamps of the Eastern Sundarbans. Because the spill was heavy furnace oil it did not disperse as fast as lighter oil would. This means that the immediate effects on the mangrove ecology are less toxic and less extensive. However it also means that much of the heavy oil is retained in the structure and woody debris of the mangrove forest. Importantly it also seeps into holes in sediments of the channel bed especially where mud crabs have dug tunnels and burrows. The oil will settle into these networks of tunnels and burrows and create oil slicks for years and possibly decades to come.

Our team was consulted by the Government agencies present, and assisted the United Nations (UN) Sundarbans Oil Spill Response mission, comprising multi-disciplinary experts from seven different countries including Bangladesh, with the assessment and recommendations. The UN team visited the Sundarbans from December 22nd to 28th to support the government of Bangladesh in containing the spillage and cleaning up; and assessing the situation and develop an action plan for a phased response and recovery. Hopefully, the recommendations in the UN Report will have a positive impact in terms of recovery, monitoring, prevention and preparedness. The baseline data for wildlife and these habitats that our team have established will be essential for examining future impacts from the spill and preparedness overall for any spill in the future.

The Sundarbans Oil Spill Assessment Mission Report is now available here: www.eecentre.org/ReportDetails.aspx/id/51/lan/en-US

November 2014: Dolphin Pavilion at Karamjal inaugurated

On November 29th, the first permanent exhibition featuring threatened freshwater dolphins was inaugurated at Karamjal, a popular tourist spot in the Bangladesh Sundarbans. The Chief Conservator of Forest, Mr. Yunus Ali, together with the members of the National Technical Committee for the Management of Three Wildlife Sanctuaries for Freshwater Dolphins in the Sundarbans, unveiled the Dolphin Pavilion. Information displayed on seven attractive panels along with a full skeleton of a Ganges River dolphin and life-size models of an Irrawaddy and Ganges River dolphin aims to enhance visitors’ interest and understanding about the cetacean diversity of Bangladesh, threats and conservation initiatives. The display panels were designed in collaboration with the Mighty Punch Studios team (www.youtube.com/user/mightypunch).

November 2014: National Technical Committee finalizes Management Plan for Three Wildlife Sanctuaries for Freshwater Dolphins in the Sundarbans, Bangladesh

The third meeting of the National Technical Committee to finalize the management plan for the three Wildlife Sanctuaries for freshwater dolphins in the Sundarbans, Bangladesh, was held on November 28th in the Sundarbans onboard M.V. Chhuti, a nature tourism vessel. During intensive working sessions revisions of certain sections, including the vessel traffic and fisheries rules, were discussed in combination with visits to the three wildlife sanctuaries. Small working groups were formed to finalize sections requiring additional discussions, and it is hoped that the revised management plan will be ready for submission to the Ministry of Environment and Forests in the coming months. The members also officially inaugurated the new Dolphin Pavilion at Karamjal.

October 2014: Bangladesh declares country’s first Marine Protected Area ‘Swatch of No Ground Marine Protected Area’

The Government of Bangladesh has created the country’s first marine protected area that aims to safeguard whales, dolphins, sea turtles, sharks, and other oceanic species. The Swatch of No Ground Marine Protected Area (SoNG MPA) was signed into law by the Ministry of Environment and Forest on October 27, 2014. Spanning some 672 square miles (1,738 square kilometers) in size with a depth of more than 900 meters, the Swatch of No Ground Marine Protected Area is larger than Cape Cod Bay and includes waters at the head of the submarine canyon from which it gets its name.

WCS’s Bangladesh Cetacean Diversity Project has worked along with the Government of Bangladesh since 2004 to ensure the long-term protection of the cetaceans in waters of Bangladesh through collaborative efforts with local communities. The creation of the SoNG MPA—which borders the territorial waters of India—will promote discussions with Bangladesh’s neighbor on a potential transboundary protected area, which contains similar species richness facing the same threats such as entanglement in fishing gears and climate change.

October 2014: National Technical Committee finalizes management plan for three Wildlife Sanctuaries for freshwater dolphins in the Sundarbans, Bangladesh

On October 31st the second meeting of the National Technical Committee for the Management of Three Wildlife Sanctuaries for Freshwater Dolphins in the Sundarbans was held at the Chief Conservator of Forests’ office in Agargaon, Dhaka. The day-long meeting was chaired by the Chief Conservator of Forests, Mr. Yunus Ali, and facilitated by our Project Director Brian D. Smith. Members of the National Technical Committee, including the Chairman of the Bangladesh Parjatan Corporation (National Tourism Organization), Conservator of Forests for the Wildlife and Nature Conservation Circle, Divisional Forest Officers of the Wildlife Management and Nature Conservation Division Khulna, and Sundarbans East and West Divisions, the Chairman of the Mongla Port Authority, the IUCN Bangladesh Country Representative and Advisor, and the Chief Executive Officers of WildTeam and CARINAM, contributed substantially to the finalization of the draft management plan prepared by WCS through insightful and constructive discussions. The document will now be further revised and hopefully submitted for approval early next year.

October 2014: First Module of SMART Patrolling Training Program for Freshwater Dolphin Protected Areas

In collaboration with the Bangladesh Forest Department and Dr. Tony Lynam, Conservationist and Regional Advisor of WCS Asia Program, we organized a two-day training workshop on SMART patrolling. The Spatial Monitoring and Reporting Tool (SMART) is a suite of best practices designed to help protected area and wildlife managers better plan, evaluate and implement their activities and to promote good governance. The program will support patrols to collect concise accurate data in three Wildlife Sanctuaries for the protection of freshwater dolphins and other aquatic biodiversity in the Sundarbans. It will be field based and provide practical guidance on the challenges faced in protecting dolphins and other wildlife, and enforcing regulations on fisheries and vessel traffic. The first module of the SMART patrolling training program was held from 26th to 27th November and attended by 13 participants including Assistant Conservators of Forests, biodiversity officers, rangers, foresters and forest guards. Moderated by Dr. Tony Lynam, the training workshop aimed to introduce the SMART approach for law enforcement and wildlife monitoring to field-level Forest Department staff posted in or close to the three wildlife sanctuaries for freshwater dolphins.

October 2014: Networking with partner NGOs

Our facilitators from the BCDP NGO Outreach Partner Network play a vital role in dispersing freshwater conservation and sustainable fisheries messages during their regular community meetings throughout their impact area. Through our outreach network we have so far reached more than 10,000 people of areas beyond our projects outreach capacity. The partner NGOs were selected in January 2007 and reassessed in 2012. The BCDP Educational Outreach team maintains monthly follow up communication with all partners.

September 2014: Visit of SOS Director, training workshop for strengthening the Fishermen Safety Network, and 1st Mini Shushuk Mela

In an effort to strengthen the Fishermen Safety Network aiming to provide safe navigation training and equipment to coastal fishermen in return for their releasing live dolphins entangled in their nets and reporting mortalities and fisheries efforts to WCS, another training workshop was held on September 23rd in Bagerhat. 15 fishermen received an intensive hands-on training on the use of a GPS and digital camera and learned to properly respond to and report dolphin entanglements and mortalities.

The Director of the Save our Species (SOS) program, Jean Christophe Vié, joined the WCS team for the training session and exhibition in Bagerhat. His visit was combined with a field trip to the three dolphin sanctuaries in the Sundarbans. SOS is providing financial support for the Fishermen Safety Network. A short video clip on the visit highlighting the program can be seen here: sospecies.org/get_involved. Simultaneous with the training workshop for the Fishermen Safety Network, a small-scale version of our Dolphin Festival or Shushuk Mela was organized at the Cultural Foundation Centre in Bagerhat. A total of 927 visitors visited the exhibition on September 23rd and 24th. Six previously trained student interpreters guided visitors to enhance their understanding, introduce the game panels, and answer questions regarding cetacean conservation in Bangladesh and sustainable fisheries. The mayor of Bagerhat, various government officers as well as teachers and students from 16 schools were invited. The BCDP Educational Outreach team is currently designing a mobile dolphin exhibition based on our experiences with the Shushuk Mela to be set up during local events and festivals in the areas covered by our NGO outreach partners. The event at Bagerhat served as a first testing ground for this new concept.

September 2014: Deputy Director of WCS Asia Program visits WCS Bangladesh Program

Dr. Peter Clyne, WCS Asia Program Deputy Director, visited the WCS Bangladesh country office from September 8th to 11th. He met with all local team members to discuss various aspects of our program, and visited the three wildlife sanctuaries for freshwater dolphins in the Eastern Sundarbans.

July 2014: Inception Meeting of National Technical Committee for Establishing Protected Areas for Freshwater Dolphins in the Eastern Sundarbans Reserve Forest, Bangladesh

On July 2nd the inception meeting of the National Technical Committee for the Management of Three Wildlife Sanctuaries for Freshwater Dolphins in the Sundarbans was held at the Chief Conservator of Forests’ office in Agargaon, Dhaka. The National Technical Committee was established as part of the project for ‘Establishing an Effective Protected Area Network for Threatened Freshwater Dolphins in Waterways of the Sundarbans Mangrove Forest, Bangladesh’, sponsored by the Convention on Biodiversity’s LifeWeb Initiative and the Federal Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, Environment and Water Management, Austria, and implemented by the Wildlife Conservation Society in partnership with the Bangladesh Forest Department. Members of the National Technical Committee will provide expert advice for developing the management plan and support its approval and implementation by the Government of Bangladesh. Pending the availability of follow-up funds they will support revisions and adaptations as needed based on rigorous monitoring and evaluation. The daylong meeting was effectual for planning the procedures and development of the management plan. The Chief Conservator of Forests Mr. Yunus Ali chaired the meeting, while BCDP Project Supervisor Prof. Benazir Ahmed and Education and Training Director Elisabeth Fahrni Mansur facilitated. Committee members attending the inception meeting included Dr. Tapan Kumar Dey, Conservator of Forests, Wildlife and Nature Conservation Circle; Mr. Aparup Chowdhury, Additional Secretary (Environment); Md. Jahidul Kabir, Wildlife Warden and Divisional Forest Officer, Wildlife Management and Nature Conservation Division, Khulna; Ishtiaq Uddin Ahmed, Country Representative of IUCN Bangladesh; Md. Amir Hosain Chowdhury, Divisional Forest Officer, Sundarbans East Division; Dr. Anwarul Islam, Professor Dhaka University and Chief Executive Officer of WildTeam; Professor Muhammad Abdur Rouf, Ph.D., FMRT Discipline Khulna University; and S.M.A. Rashid, Chairman of Center for Advance Research in Natural Resources and Management (CARINAM).

June 2014: Refresher training for members of Fishermen Safety Network

June 2014: On June 2nd a refresher training workshop was held for coastal gillnet fishermen on the use of a handheld Global Positioning System (GPS) and digital camera provided to members of the fishermen safety network supported by Save our Species (SOS). The training was conducted in our Khulna office with five fishermen. The opportunity was also used to download data collected by the fishermen and to discuss technical issues and other challenges with the provided tools or information recording. (www.sospecies.org/get_involved and www.sospecies.org/sos_projects/mammals/coastal_cetaceans_bangladesh/)

May 2014: Consultation meetings on management of wildlife sanctuaries for freshwater dolphins

On May 10th and 11th the BCDP organized two community consultations on board a tourism vessel near the Dhangmari and Chandpai Forest Stations. A total of 64 community members participated in the meeting to incorporate suggestions from local stakeholders and resource users in the management plan for the three wildlife sanctuaries for the protection of freshwater dolphins in the Eastern Sundarbans Reserve Forest. Additional consultation meetings were held on May 12th with 38 local tour operators in Mongla and on May 17th with 35 field level Forest Department staff to incorporate their suggestions in the management plan. High priority issues emphasized by participants were:

1) Poverty and the lack of alternative employment options are the major drivers responsible for the overexploitation of natural resources.
2) Fishery regulations must be strictly but fairly applied.
3) The widespread use of fine-mesh “mosquito nets” should be strictly banned.
4) Poison fishing is an increasing problem.
5) The livelihoods of fishermen are increasingly insecure due to the presence of dacoits.
6) Commercial vessel traffic transiting through the wildlife sanctuaries is causing deep pools, which are primary fishing grounds and where the dolphins congregate, to fill in with sediments.
7) Conducting joint patrols with local community members and the Forest Department.
8) Network of social service NGOs in local communities that should be partnered with to support sustainable livelihoods and provide incentives for compliance with regulations regarding resource use in the sanctuaries.
9) Challenges faced by the Forest Department include lack of recognition and respect for their authority by local political leaders, no awards or risk incentives, and a lack of facilities and equipment.
10) Forest Department staff communicated a need for new laws and regulations, and modernized administrative procedures for issuing fishing and forest permits.

May 2014: Intern assists with legal framework for marine protected area

Joseph Carroll, an American law student at William & Mary Law School, Williamsburg, Virginia, volunteered for our team for nearly two months. Funded through a public service fellowship from William & Mary to further his legal education through training and professional experience, Jo worked with our team to prepare an analysis of national and international laws relevant to the legal framework of a marine protected area at the Swatch-of-No-Ground and adjacent coastal waters.

April 2014: International Symposium on River Biodiversity: Ganges-Brahmaputra-Meghna river system, Patna, India.

The program held from 4th to 6th April 2014 was jointly organized by Patna University (India) and Chittagong University (Bangladesh) and sponsored by IUCN. Professor Benazir Ahmed, Project supervisor, Rubaiyat Mansur Mowgli, principle researcher and Elisabeth Fahrni Mansur, Education and Training Director were invited to present “Identification and ecological characteristics of freshwater dolphin "hotspots" in the Sundarbans, Bangladesh”, “Monitoring the mortality of freshwater cetaceans in the Sundarbans, Bangladesh: progress, challenges, and potential” and “An Educational Outreach Strategy for Freshwater Dolphin Conservation: Measuring the Results”, respectively. (www.aquaticecosystems.org/ conference)

February 2014: Training workshop for new members of Fishermen Safety Network

Using the Shushuk Mela as a floating training platform, we conducted three training sessions between February 10th and 20th for new members of the Fishermen Safety Network. A total of 16 gillnet fishermen, boat owners, assistant captains and mechanics operating in the coastal waters of the Bay of Bengal received hands-on training on the use of a handheld Global Positioning System (GPS) device and a digital camera, how to safely release entangled dolphins from their nets and how to collect information and biological samples from dead dolphins. Richly illustrated handbooks in simple Bengali language were provided to all participants. Seven participants successfully completed the exam and as new members were given a GPS, a sample collection kit and a set of data sheets.

February 2014: Shushuk Mela 2014

On February 6th the fourth floating Shushuk Mela or Dolphin Festival started its month-long journey through 15 anchor points, previously identified as hometowns of fisherfolk active in the three Wildlife Sanctuaries for freshwater dolphins in the Eastern Sundarbans. Almost 17,000 visitors were welcomed to the Shushuk Mela 2014 by a total of 17 trained student interpreters from the universities of Khulna, Jagannath and Jahangirnagar. During the 15 evening film shows over 5000 people gathered to see two internationally acclaimed documentary movies on the Ganges River dolphin and ongoing cetacean conservation activities by renowned wildlife filmmaker Tanjilur Rahman (www.wildeyebd.net). All schools, colleges, madrassas and other educational institutions within walking distance from the exhibition were visited to encourage the participation of all students and teachers.The three key messages addressed by the fourth traveling dolphin exhibition were 1) our waters support a great abundance and diversity of cetaceans; 2) the three new wildlife sanctuaries aim to secure local livelihoods and protect threatened freshwater dolphins; and 3) following fishery regulations can ensure healthy fish stocks. As in previous years, life-size models, game boards, a bioscope, as well as interactive exhibits were used to increase the visitors understanding of these issues.

While informal consultations with exhibition visitors were conducted in previous years, this year 220 people in 80 groups participated in formal consultations. The insights from these discussions were useful for preparing formal community consultations held in May 2014. An entry–exit survey using a standard questionnaire to assess changes in knowledge of visitors showed significant improvements.

November 2013: 1st National Indonesian Marine Mammal Stranding Workshop

The 1st National Indonesian Marine Mammal Stranding Workshop (www.seammsn.org/news), organized by the Indonesian Biodiversity Research Centre, Ocean Park Hong Kong, the Indonesian Veterinary Medical Association and Whale Stranding Indonesia, sponsored by Ocean Park Conservation Foundation Hong Kong, WWF Indonesia, and the International Whaling Commission, and supported by the Ministry of Marine Affairs and Fisheries Indonesia and the University of St. Andrews, was held from November 25th to 28th 2013 in Bali, Indonesia. Elisabeth Fahrni Mansur, BCDPs Training and Education Director, was invited to attend the training workshop that aimed to (1) share knowledge and experience in marine mammal stranding activities from the Southeast Asia region; and (2) impart knowledge about the various aspects of marine mammals stranding. The interactive and hands-on first day focusing on response strategies and recovery of stranded animals was followed by a series of lectures and a necropsy demonstration on the second day.

While the number of strandings in Bangladesh is considered low, the acquired skills and approaches have been integrated in training programs for the WCS Bangladesh Mortality Monitoring Network. Minor enhancements identified during the training have been incorporated in our data and sample collection protocol, thereby strengthening the value of the information obtained through our network. Overall the workshop was a positive experience, a welcome opportunity to strengthen relationships with colleagues in the region, and a chance to expand theoretical as well as practical knowledge about post-mortem procedures and related methods. We are grateful to OPCFHK (www.opcf.org.hk) for sponsoring our participation.

November 2013: Visit from filmmaker ‘Who will save the River Dolphin?’

Jennifer Lewis, Director at the Tropical Dolphin Research Foundation (www.tropicaldolphin.org) and student of Environmental Science and Policy Studies at the George Mason University (USA) is currently working on a documentary film about the daily life and struggles of people dedicated to conserving Ganges River dolphins in India, Bangladesh and Nepal. She spent 10 days with the BCDP to film our working spaces, project activities and personal interviews with team members. Visit theriverdolphin.blogspot.com and watch vimeo.com/114252020 for an impression of her work.

September 2013: Strengthening the BCDP Cetacean Mortality Monitoring Network

During the Shushuk Mela 2013 we identified 35 local community members that showed strong interest in our work with availability in their respective villages along the fringes of the Sundarbans throughout all seasons. We invited the selected shopkeepers, teachers, boat operators, students, NGO workers and drivers to participate in an intensive day-long training on September 27th held in the Forest Department offices in Boyra, Khulna. The trainees were taught how to identify cetacean species, safely release entangled dolphins from fishing gear, and collect measurements and biological samples from dolphin carcasses. They were also instructed in proper and safe conduct with crowds when responding to mortalities reported through the BCDP Dolphin Hotline. All trained new members of the BCDP Cetacean Mortality Monitoring Network received a certificate along with a sample collection kit and the response protocol in Bengali language.

Including the 35 newly trained members, the BCDP Cetacean Mortality Monitoring Network now consists of 47 trained respondents from 18 villages. A direct indication of the networks effectiveness is the increase in responses to reports about cetacean entanglements, mortalities or consumption: During the past twelve months we received 14 reports about dolphin mortalities, 12 of which were reported through the BCDP Dolphin Hotline; six carcasses were examined by trained respondents.

July 2013: Seminar session ‘Research on cetacean diversity of Bangladesh and implications of GIS’ for Department of Zoology, Dhaka University

Dhaka University’s Department of Zoology invited the BCDP team to participate in their seminar on the use of the Geographic Information System (GIS) in a variety of research fields. On July 23rd two members of our team lectured to about 40 teachers and students from the Dhaka and Jagannath universities on “Research on cetacean diversity of Bangladesh and implications of GIS”. GIS expert and previous BCDP project manager Abdullah Abu Diyan spoke about the use of GIS and its significance in cetacean research in Bangladesh. BCDPs principle researcher Rubaiyat Mansur Mowgli presented an overview of cetacean research in Bangladesh, and Farhana Akhtar, Education and Research Coordinator, addressed the importance and impacts of effective educational outreach.

July 2013: Presentation at closing ceremony of the Ministry of Environment and Forests annual Tree Fair

The Ministry of Environment and Forests invited our WCS country representative to speak at the closing ceremony of this year’s tree fair in the Forest Department headquarters in Dhaka on July 4th. Around 300 people, including the Chief Conservator of Forests, Conservator of Forests, Assistant Conservator of Forests, other Forest Department staff as well as numerous school-aged children and their parents followed Rubaiyat Mansur Mowgli’s presentation ‘Introducing the cetacean diversity of Bangladesh along with their threats and WCS’s conservation efforts’.

June 2013: Refresher training workshop for members of Fishermen Safety Network

Our principal researcher, Rubaiyat Mansur Mowgli, conducted a follow-up training course for members of the Fishermen Safety Network on June 19th in Bagerhat. Five fishermen and boat owners selected during the previous workshop in May were given a refresher course on the use of the Global Positioning System (GPS), along with instructions about the use of a digital camera. After completing the intensive follow-up training, the coastal fishermen were given a waterproof camera to document important events at sea as well as images of fish and cetaceans.

May 2013: Presentation for senior Forest Department officers in training seminar on wildlife protection and survey techniques

On May 28th the Khulna Wildlife Management and Nature Conservation Division of the Bangladesh Forest Department Wildlife Circle organized a training seminar under the title of ‘Wildlife Population Estimation, Capture, Immobilization, Handling and Rehabilitation’ for senior level officers and current officers in charge of different forest offices, stations and patrol post in the Sundarbans East and West divisions. Our program manager Zahangir Alom was invited to lecture on ‘Population estimation of cetaceans: Introduction, importance and general methodologies’ and ‘Field methods of estimating dolphin abundance in the Sundarbans’. 20 senior Forest Department staff members including the Divisional Forest Officer, Assistant Conservator of Forests and senior officers from the Wildlife Circle, wildlife inspectors, veterinary surgeons, station officers, rangers, and foresters attended the seminar.

May 2013: School event for street children in Dhaka

Mayer Achol, an institution providing basic education, shelter and training facilities for street children in Mirpur, Dhaka, invited us to speak to their beneficiaries. On May 27th we held a session for 52 children aged 6 to 12 years old, while 71 teenagers attended the event on May 28th. The age-appropriate presentations were interwoven with our two documentary movies, games and other interactive elements to increase interest in and understanding of cetaceans of Bangladesh, the threats they are facing and ongoing conservation efforts. www.batachildrensprogram.com

May 2013: Training workshop for members of Fishermen Safety Network

15 fishermen and boat owners working in the coastal waters of Bangladesh participated in our intensive two-day training workshop conducted from May 4th to 5th 2013 in Bagerhat. The members of the Fishermen Safety Network learned how to use a handheld Global Positioning System (GPS) device and a depth sounder to help them safely navigate the treacherous coastal waters in adverse weather conditions, how to safely release entangled dolphins from their nets and how to collect information and biological samples from dead dolphins. Richly illustrated handbooks in simple Bengali language were provided to all participants. On the second day of the workshop the participants were given a short exam. Fishermen that successfully completed the test were given a GPS, a sample collection kit and a set of data sheets. In exchange for potentially lifesaving navigation equipment and technical support, the members of the Fishermen Safety Network commit to release any live entangled dolphins and provide information about their catch, fishing effort and dead cetaceans.

March 2013: International Conference on Marine Mammals of South East Asia (SEAMAM III)

Our project manager, Zahangir Alom was invited to moderate a workshop on “Educational Solutions - Working with Local Communities” at the Third International Conference on Marine Mammals of South East Asia (SEAMAM III). SEAMAM is a forum for consideration of issues related to the conservation and biology of coastal/inshore, estuarine and riverine marine mammals in Southeast Asia. The conference was held from 4th to 10th March 2013 on Langkawi Island, Malaysia. Marine mammal researchers working in Southeast Asian countries reported on their results and plans, exchanged information on research methods, and assisted colleagues who are new to the field. The conference consisted of a symposium with presentations on regional or country status of marine mammals, followed by a series of interdisciplinary workshops, discussions and training sessions. www.iucn-csg.org

February 2013: Shushuk Mela 2013

On February 8th 2013 the Conservator of Forest, Khulna Circle, inaugurated the fourth Shushuk Mela or Dolphin Festival in Mongla. The floating exhibition anchored at 15 villages in the fringe area of the Sundarbans forest. Over 13,000 visitors were welcomed on board during the month-long event, and around 4500 people attended the 15 evening film shows.

The key messages of this years exhibition were 1) Dolphins are our pride; 2) Dolphins need protection; 3) Together we can protect our dolphins. The Shushuk Mela provided a platform for learning more about our endangered freshwater dolphins, discussing existing protective laws as well as proposed regulations for the new wildlife sanctuaries, anticipated challenges related to the new wildlife sanctuaries for freshwater dolphins, and for exchanging ideas about sustainable fisheries practices and alternative income generating activities.

A team of 10 trained interpreters guided the visitors through the traveling exhibition. New exhibits, including a bioscope showing the live birth of a dolphin calf, a photo opportunity mural for visitors to take photographs of their friends and family (and the dolphin hotline number) with their mobile phone, and a showcase displaying locally produced goods and handicrafts to encourage innovative and creative approaches for income generating activities, attracted lots of attention.

November 2012: Training workshop for Coastal Fishermen Safety Network

On November 2nd our principal researcher, Rubaiyat Mansur Mowgli, assisted by our project director, Brian D. Smith, and our financial manager, Masudur Rahman Saikat, conducted a training workshop for coastal fishermen in Bagerhat. 17 participants, including captains, engineers and senior crewmembers of five fishing vessels learned how to use a Global Positioning System (GPS) and a depth sounder to safely navigate the dangerous shallows of the coastal waters. The participants also learned about the cetaceans of Bangladesh, their conservation status and the correct procedure for releasing entangled cetaceans and collecting samples from dead dolphins. One hand-held GPS, one depth sounder set-up and a sample collecting kit was given to three of the five represented fishing boats. In return for increasing the safety of these fishermen at sea, the fishermen pledged to release entangled cetaceans and collect information from dead animals for the BCDP. A weatherproof training handbook was distributed among the participants as a reference, along with data sheets for collecting information about navigation, sightings and mortalities. A waterproof storage bag was also provided to keep the all equipment and documents safe and dry.

November 2012: Kick-off for Field Season 2012/13

On November 5th we kicked off the 2012/13 field season. In a first phase the team conducted a blind test with ‘pingers’, devices emitting a ‘ping’ sound at about 70khz, to determine changes of behavior for freshwater dolphins. Four confluence areas in the new wildlife sanctuaries were selected as test locations. The experimental study was carried out over a period of 20 days by a team of 6 BCDP members, 7 volunteers, and 7 crewmembers aboard three vessels.

In November the BCDP principal researcher, Rubaiyat Mansur Mowgli, started his research work in the coastal waters adjacent of Sundarbans and the deep-sea canyon ‘Swatch-of-No-Ground’ in the Bay of Bengal. During this years three-month session he conducted sample collection in support of a genetic study of Indo-Pacific humpbacked dolphins, and continued his study on population dynamics of bottlenose dolphins (using photo-identification) and their interactions with fisheries.

October 2012: Go4BioDiv Youth Forum in COP11 of Convention on Biological Diversity

Our Education and Training Program Assistant, Ms. Farhana Akhtar, was invited as a resource person to participate in the Go4BioDiv Youth Forum from 5th -19thOctober 2012 in the Sundarbans and Hyderabad, India (www.go4biodiv.org). Go4BioDiv is an international youth forum carried out parallel to the Conference of the Parties of Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). The third Go4BioDiv Youth Forum focused on the theme “Conserving the coastal and marine biodiversity for sustainable life and livelihood”. There were four workshops, and Ms. Farhana co-moderated the workshop on Public Outreach, Education and Communication. All the workshops aimed to formulate a declaration presented to the Parties of the Convention on Biological Diversity (COP 11 of CBD). Her efforts to moderate the workshop, manage side events and share her experience from the BCDP Educational Outreach program were greatly appreciated by the organizers and participants.

Student Internship Program

In April of this year we announced a new round of student internships for Bangladeshi students enrolled in Masters and PhD programs. Two students were selected through a thorough process. They are currently receiving logistical, technical and financial support for completing their Master’s thesis: Ms. Zenifar Azmeri (supervised by Dr. Mohammed Mostafa Feeroz, JU) is assessing the feasibility of using photo-identification techniques for Irrawaddy dolphins here in Bangladesh, while Mr. Shihab Khaledin (supervised by Dr. Monirul H. Khan, JU) is studying the environmental impacts of mechanized vessel traffic on the new wildlife sanctuaries for freshwater dolphins in the eastern Sundarbans forest. These studies support ongoing research priorities of the BCDP and strengthen our collaboration with national universities, while also building local capacity for designing and carrying out conservation oriented research.

Support for graduate university students

Ms. Mahfuza Afroz successfully completed her Masters dissertation on 'Examination of the stomach contents of freshwater cetaceans and overlap with fish catches in the Sundarbans' in February 2012 at Khulna University. Inspired by her experience working with the BCDP, Ms. Afroz volunteered as an interpreter for the 2012 Shushuk Mela and successfully applied for a ten-month internship through the Conservation Leadership Program (CLP) to coordinate our mortality monitoring network and publish the results of her dissertation in a peer-reviewed journal.

Mr. Zahangir Alom completed fieldwork for his Ph.D. dissertation at Jahangirnagar University on the “Ecological and human use characteristics of freshwater-dependent cetacean habitat in the Eastern Sundarbans Reserved Forest of Bangladesh.” Mr. Alom is currently analysing data and writing his dissertation which should be completed before the end of 2012.

NGO Facilitator's Training Workshop

To expand the scope and impact of our educational outreach activities, the BCDP works with a network of social development organizations. Partner organizations were assessed and selected through a series of interviews in October 2011. From 21 - 22 January 2012, the BCDP organized an intensive training workshop for grass-root level facilitators from these NGOs. In addition to the 14 participants from our partner organizations, two representatives from the Forest Department and two students from Khulna University were invited. During the two-day workshop we used games, models and illustrations to communicate basic knowledge about cetaceans, the status and diversity of these fascinating animals in Bangladesh, and the newly established Wildlife Sanctuaries and proposed regulations. The participants greatly appreciated their newly acquired knowledge as well as our innovative educational outreach techniques which they will apply during their meetings and workshops in local communities. All participants were given a training handbook and certificate along with coloring booklets, posters and stickers on cetacean conservation for dissemination among their target communities.

Shushuk Mela 2012

The third Shushuk Mela (or dolphin exhibition) was inaugurated by the Chief Conservator of Forests on February 18, 2012. He was joined by about 30 other senior officials of the Forest Department as well as a large number of representatives from local media and NGOs. During the next 26 days, the floating exhibition traveled to 15 villages and towns, seven of which had been visited during last year's exhibition. These areas contain the homes of fishermen operating in the three new wildlife sanctuaries. We learned as much from interviews conducted as part of a doctoral dissertation, partially supported by funds from FTM, on the ecology and human use of 'hotspots' for freshwater dolphins in the Sundarbans (see below).

A total of 19,128 people visited the floating cetacean exhibition: 55% were under the age of 16 and 28% were between 17 and 40 years old (the primary age range of most professional fishermen). Visitors were guided through the exhibition by interpreters from our exhibition team of three BCDP staff and seven volunteers. Volunteers were recruited from Khulna and Jahangirnagar Universities, the Wildlife Division of the Forest Department, and partner NGOs. All interpreters participated in an intensive one-day training course and received mentoring during daily feedback sessions with the BCDP staff. Several had not worked with our project previously, but they proved to be excellent communicators and are now experienced members of our network of environmental educators. We also engaged interested children and had them serve as 'dolphin ambassadors', assisting our education team in organizing the visitors and attracting more guests. Approximately 10,000 coloring booklets and 3,000 posters on cetaceans and their conservation, along with 15,000 stickers promoting the dolphin hotline for our mortality monitoring network, were distributed during the Shushuk Mela.

The exhibition provided a platform to informally discuss suggested regulations, including strict enforcement of the ban on illegal fishing gear, restrictions on vessel speed, prohibitions on dumping solid waste and contaminated water from commercial vessels, and anticipated challenges in the new wildlife sanctuaries for freshwater dolphins. While most fishermen agreed with enforcement of the ban on illegal fishing gear, they expressed concerns about the current practice of allowing fishing in existing wildlife sanctuaries for 'unofficial payments'. This puts those fishers who support and abide by protective regulations at a disadvantage and undermines conservation efforts.

Assessing the effectiveness of the Shushuk Mela 2011

To assess the effectiveness of the our traveling, vessel-based exhibition on cetacean diversity or Shushuk Mela in 2011, our Educational Outreach Team carried out a Knowledge-Attitude-Practice (KAP) survey in four villages: two that we visited in 2011, and two that we did not visit in 2011 but planned to visit in 2012. A standardized questionnaire was used to interview 50 people in each village, including fishermen, children, and women. Results from the survey revealed a considerable difference in the knowledge and attitudes between villages that were visited and those that were not. For example, 60% of respondents living in villages visited by the exhibition knew that Ganges River dolphins are mammals while only 31% of the respondents from villages that were not visited were aware of this fact. About 80% of all interviewed fishermen said they would cut their fishing gear to release a live dolphin caught in their net, with a slightly larger percentage reporting the same in the two villages visited by the Shushuk Mela last year. In the villages we visited last year, no one reported that they would sell a dolphin carcass and only 3% said they would render it for oil. By comparison, in villages we had not previously visited, 16% reported they would sell a dolphin carcass and 7% reported they would render it for oil. These results indicate that the Shushuk Mela has been successful at raising awareness among local people on the conservation of freshwater dolphins, and that our emphasis on reducing by-catch is well-founded and should be strengthened. Another KAP survey will be conducted in June 2012 to assess the effectiveness of the 2012 Shushuk Mela and provide input for improvements to be incorporated into the one planned for 2013.

Declaration of Wildlife Sanctuaries for freshwater dolphin in Eastern Sundarbans Reserved Forest

After months of anticipation, on January 29th 2012 three new wildlife sanctuaries (Chandpai, Dhangmari, and Dudhmukhi) were declared for the protection of threatened Ganges and Irrawaddy dolphins by the Ministry of Forests and Environment. The three wildlife sanctuaries safeguard 19.4 mi (31.4 km) of channels with a total area of 4.1 sq mi (10.7 sq km). The locations and sizes of the sanctuaries in the Sundarbans were determined according to a study conducted by the BCDP and published in the journal Oryx in 2010. This study found that the habitat of Ganges River and Irrawaddy dolphins were clumped in waterways where human activities are most intense. Declaration of the wildlife sanctuaries is a great success for our project and a triumph for cetacean conservation in Bangladesh, but it is only a first step. We are currently collaborating with local communities and government officials to develop and implement a science-based, community informed management plan that aims to conserve threatened freshwater dolphins, provide benefits for local fishermen, and inform adaptive human-wildlife management to cope with the impacts of climate change.

October 2011: A dedicated Survey of the Western Sundarbans completed

Researchers from the BCDP recently completed a dolphin survey of the western Sundarbans in Bangladesh. Supported by a team of students from Khulna and Chittagong Universities, Forest Department officials, and international volunteers, during nine days they searched for these elusive animals in nearly 1,000 kilometers of mangrove channels. An intensive training workshop prior to the expedition gave all team members the skills to search for cetaceans and record scientific data on their occurrence. The observer team reported a total of 128 sightings of cetaceans. The highest numbers of sightings were recorded for Irrawaddy and Ganges River dolphins but a surprising finding was the occurrence of finless porpoises and even a sighting of Indo-Pacific humpback dolphins, cetacean species that are more often associated with higher salinity coastal waters.

The results of this recent survey will help to identify additional ‘dolphin hotspots’ in the western portion of the Sundarbans mangrove forest and contribute to the establishment of a protected area network for cetacean diversity in Bangladesh.

September 2011: Invited presentation on the BCDP Educational Outreach Program at Student Conference on Conservation Science in Bangalore, India

Our Education and Training Assistant, Farhana Akhtar, was invited to attend the Student Conference on Conservation Science, 14-16 September, Bangalore, India. Farhana presented a talk titled “Sharing the Challenge of Conserving Bangladesh’s Cetacean Diversity with Local Communities“. The talk highlighted innovative approaches of the BCDP to communicate information on cetaceans and their conservation. Attending students and conservation scientists included Dr. Andrew Balmford, University of Cambridge (UK), Prof. Yvonne Sadovy, University of Hong Kong, Prof. Raman Sukumar, Indian Institute of Science, and Dr. Ullas Karanth, WCS India. Participants at the conference were particularly enthusiastic about our boat-based, travelling Shushuk Mela or dolphin exhibition. This conference was a welcome opportunity to network with students from neighbouring countries and learn more about conservation activities in the region.

August 2011: February 2012: Conservation Leadership Programme Intern joins BCDP

Emile Mahabub has joined the BCDP team as an intern to assist with the research and educational outreach activities. He has been taking an active role in planning and conducting an impact survey for evaluating the effectiveness of the educational outreach activities, and more specifically the floating dolphin exhibition. He is currently involved in planning the logistics for the upcoming Shushuk Mela 2012, assessing and selecting new partners for the BCDP NGO Educational Outreach Network, and he will participate in a cetacean survey in the western Sundarbans as well as other BCDP research activities in the coming field season. Emile has a Bachelor’s degree in Environmental Management. Since 2005 he has worked as nature guide for The Guide Tours Ltd. in the Sundarbans of Bangladesh. Last year Emile was awarded the Conservation Leadership Programme’s Future Conservationist Award. His internship with the BCDP is funded by the Conservation Leadership Programme in affiliation with the Wildlife Conservation Society.

May 2011: GPS navigation Training for Coastal fishermen from Pirojpur

The BCDP program ‘Saving Lives – People and Dolphins’ aims to assist coastal fishermen by providing safety at sea through navigation equipment and training in the use thereof, in return for minimizing cetacean bycatch and reporting cetacean sightings and mortalities.

On May 29th 2011 the BCDP Principal Researcher, Project Coordinator and Financial Manager traveled to the fishing town of Hularhat/Pirojpur in the south-east of Bangladesh, equipped with several weather-proof copies of a training handbook and cetacean identification charts they had specially developed in Bengali language, appropriate for the elementary level of literacy among fishermen, and two hand-held Global Positioning System (GPS) devices that were modified with colored dots for easy reference.

They were met by the fishing vessel captain that has been assisting the BCDP team for the past five years with the survey work at the Swatch-of-No-Ground and in the coastal waters. He introduced the trainers to Mr. Sukhoranjan Das, the owner of five fishing vessels, who kindly offered his home as a venue for the training session. The group was joined by another fishing vessel owner, Mr. Amio Babu. Both owners are very keen on equipping all their vessels with GPS and Depth sounders, and had arranged for their vessel crew members to join the session.

Along with the two fishing vessel owners four captains, three mechanical engineers and five crew members participated in the day-long training. The theoretical part, which elaborated on the contents depicted and described in the manual, was followed by a practical session. The participants clearly enjoyed this part of the training, as they were ecstatic to see the devices at work, and eager to learn how to handle this valuable tool. The third session focused on cetacean identification and completing data sheets. Thereafter all participants boarded an engine boat on the nearby river and practiced their newly acquired skills.

Our Principal Researcher feels confident that two persons from the two boats, which have been provided with a GPS each by BCDP, are now sufficiently competent to handle the devices properly. He plans to visit them again after they return from their first voyage with the GPS to retrieve the collected information and provide clarifications as needed.

May 2011: Working Session for Wildlife Sanctuaries

On May 9th 2011 the BCDP organized a working session with the Forest Department to discuss the establishment of three wildlife sanctuaries for freshwater dolphins in the Eastern Sundarbans Reserved Forest. The session was attended by senior officers from the Forest Department Wildlife and Nature Conservation circle, a representative from the Ministry of Environment and Forests, and the entire BCDP team. Mr. Ishtiaq Ahmad, Chief Conservator of Forests, chaired the session. The BCDP presented detailed study results compiled in a comprehensive background document supporting the proposed protected areas in the mangrove waterways. The justification and benefits were highlighted in regards to saving endangered species, incorporating climate change impacts, promoting sustainable development and generating local socio-economic benefits. The BCDP presented recommendations for the regulations and management of these new wildlife sanctuaries, which include law enforcement, sustainable fisheries, appropriate infrastructure, improved administration, strengthened collaborations and benefits for local communities. The CCF expressed his positive support for the wildlife sanctuaries to be declared within the coming months, and welcomed the science-based, community-informed recommendations proposed by the BCDP.

March 2011: New Look for BCDP Website

In collaboration with the SBW Neue Medien in Romanshorn, Switzerland, and Kaspar Mühlemann (Design) our website has received a totally new and user friendly look. We are grateful to our volunteer intern from Switzerland, Barbara Mühlemann, for taking on this task with the necessary perseverance and care. All collaborators worked without remuneration for our project, for which we are very grateful!

March 2011: Foundations for Tomorrow – Building Local Capacity for Cetacean Conservation

With financial support from the Foundation for the Third Millennium (F3M) the Wildlife Conservation Society’s Bangladesh Cetacean Diversity Project (BCDP) has significantly strengthened its educational outreach and capacity building work. The most noteworthy achievement was convening a boat-based educational exhibition featuring the cetacean diversity of Bangladesh and our conservation activities. The exhibition reached over 5,000 visitors living close to our planned protected area network. We also recruited a full-time educational assistant to help with the exhibition and two workshops held to increase the research skill of our network of volunteer students. Additionally, the BCDP Education and Training Director, Elisabeth Fahrni Mansur, and the Project Director, Brian D. Smith, were invited as guestspeakers to the regional collaborative workshop ‘Determining and quantifying threats to coastal cetaceans’ from February 22-24 2011 in Kuching, Sarawak.

March 2011: Shushuk Mela 2011 – Sharing the challenge of conserving Bangladesh’s cetacean diversity with local communities

Following an overwhelmingly successful cetacean exhibition (Shushuk Mela) held in October 2009 in the capital city Dhaka, we modified the exhibition to convene it on a wooden palm collection boat that traveled to local villages close to our planned Protected Area Network. The event aimed to increase awareness among local communities about cetacean diversity in Bangladesh and to build local constituencies for the establishment of three Wildlife Sanctuaries for Ganges River and Irrawaddy dolphins in the Sundarbans.

A conservation management plan to address the threats facing these dolphins and to ensure that their habitat is protected is being developed by the BCDP together with the Forest Department and local fisher folk. The ‘Shushuk Mela 2011’ provided a platform for discussing locally appropriate conservation interventions with community members. Visitors, including fishermen, traders and local leaders, reacted positively to the conservation interventions proposed by the BCDP, which stress the importance of healthy fish stocks and maintaining sufficient freshwater flow for humans as well as dolphins.

A large wooden boat traditionally used for collecting palm leaves harvested from the Sundarbans forest was modified to create a floating exhibition space. Information was presented on thirty panels, with photographs, illustrations and simple Bengali text, and in interactive games that encouraged both children and adults to test their understanding. Life-size models also gave the visitors a closer look at these amazing creatures and their features. Trained volunteer interpreters from local universities guided the visitors through the exhibition, encouraged questions and initiated discussions. Altogether the ‘Shushuk Mela 2011’ completed a two-week long tour through seven villages adjacent to the Sundarbans mangrove forest. In addition to the more than 5000 visitors welcomed aboard, an estimated 3000 persons enjoyed our nightly film documentary screenings.

March 2011: Internship Program

Ms. Mahfuza Afroz was awarded a BCDP scholarship for completing her Master’s degree with the Fisheries and Marine Resource Technology Department at Khulna University. She will complete her dissertation, with assistance from the BCDP, on ‘Examination of the stomach contents of freshwater cetaceans and overlap with fish catches in the Sundarbans’. For further details regarding the BCDP Internship Program, please contact edu@shushuk.org.

March 2011: Technical Training Workshops

Training workshops were convened for 14 students from Khulna University, 4 local tour operators and 2 Forest Department officers on mortality monitoring and the examination of cetacean carcasses, and for 12 students from Khulna University on calibration surveys for estimating freshwater dolphin abundance from sighting data collected by nature tourism vessels operated by The Guide Tours Ltd. The curriculum for the mortality monitoring workshop focused on postmortem examinations, including species identification, determination of cause of death, documenting and photographing carcass parts, and collection and preservation of biological samples, as well as instructions on how to release live dolphins back into the water and disseminate appropriate educational messages.

The workshop on calibration surveys was held onboard a nature tourism vessel of The Guide Tours Ltd. and consisted of a brief introduction to cetacean conservation efforts and survey methods, followed by practical training on how to systematically record cetacean observations, measure environmental parameters and behave appropriately in the company of tourists. The most promising students were identified as volunteers for participating in upcoming captain’s sighting network calibration trips. All workshop participants received comprehensive training manuals and certificates.

March 2010: International Awards for BCDP

The BCDP Principal Researcher, Rubaiyat Mansur Mowgli, has been nominated as new member of IUCN Species Survival Committee Cetacean Specialist Group.

A selected group of BCDP trainees has been awarded this year’s prestigious Conservation Leadership Award. More

March 2010: Current Field Work

From January – December 2010 the BCDP team is active during full moon periods and slack tides in the designated dolphin hotspots and randomly selected non-hotspots in the Eastern Sundarbans mangrove waterways. They are investigating the human use patterns and related ecological and socio-economic factors.

The results of this study will enable BCDP to formulate science-based, locally informed recommendations for regulations to be implemented in the proposed Protected Area Network for Freshwater Dolphins in the Sundarbans Reserved Forest by the Forest Department of Bangladesh.

March 2010: Shushuk Mela on Tour

From December 2010 to February 2011 our innovative and interactive ‘Shushuk Mela’ or Dolphin Exhibition will be coming by boat to the communities in the fringe area of the Sundarbans Mangrove Forest. If you want our exhibition to make halt in your community, be sure to contact us for early reservations (edu@shushuk.org)

March 2010: Internship & Volunteering Opportunities

We will shortly be announcing unique collaboration opportunities for Bangladeshi Masters and PhD students. Stay tuned for the details!