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Eco-engineered Coastal Defense And Food Production

November 2012

ECOBAS Project
The Eco-engineered Coastal Defense integrated with Sustainable Aquatic Food Production in Bangladesh, abbreviated of ECOBAS

Bangladesh project team

M. Shahadat Hossain, Sayedur Rahman Chowdhury and S.M. Sharifuzzaman Institute of Marine Sciences and Fisheries University of Chittagong, Chittagong-4331, Bangladesh

Project Staff
Research assistants: Md. Royhanur Islam, Md.Sakibul Islam, Golam Muhammed Samrat and Nayan Mallick Local field caretakers: M. Sirajul Islam (Kutubdia) and M. Ahsan Ullah (Maheshkhali)

Special assistance given by

Md. Abdul Kaiyum, Jainal Abedin, Subrata Sarker, M. Shah Nawaz Chowdhury and M. Ziaur Rahaman

Dutch specialists
Arjo Rothuis, Aad Smaal, Tom Ysebaert, Christiaan van Sluis, Petra Hellegers, Arie van Duijn Marnix de Vriend, Carvajal Monar Fortunato, Petra Dankers and Alex Hooijer

Partner institutions
IMARES Wageningen University, The Netherlands Institute of Marine Sciences and Fisheries, University of Chittagong, Bangladesh LEI (Agricultural Economics Research Institute), The Hague Royal Haskoning, The Netherlands

ECOBAS, November 2012 Unless otherwise explicitly mentioned, all photographs and illustrations used in this monograph are taken/created during the ECOBAS project activities and are copyrighted materials of the ECOBAS project. Reproduction in any form will require written permission.


Introduction Contents
Introduction The erosion prone coastal area Overview of conventional coastal defense mechanisms The ecosystem-engineer in coastal defense ECOBAS: a modest initiative ECOBAS findings Potential values of ECOBAS ECOBAS Activities: Visuals Up-scaling of ECOBAS Potentials of forward linkage Bangladesh is one of the most disaster prone countries in the world and here climate anomalies are an integral part of the social fabric. About 30-70% of the country is normally flooded each year. At that time, huge sediment load brought in by three large Himalayan rivers nemely the Padma, the Brahmaputra and the Meghna, in a negligible elevation gradient adds to drainage congestion problems and exacerbate the extent of overall flooding situation. The societal exposure to such risks is further accentuated as the affected areas tend to be densely populated. Incidentally, projections of future changes in climate indicate accelerated sea level rise, higher temperature, enhanced monsoon precipitation and run-off, potentially reduced dry season precipitation, and increase in cyclone intensity, which would worsen the situation of an already grim environmental condition. Thus, climate change may turn out to be a serious impediment to the economic development of Bangladesh because of geographic fectors, greater reliance on climate sensitive sectors, low incomes, weaker adaptive capacity and aid dependence. A ranking of key climate change impacts and vulnerabilities for Bangladesh identifies water and coastal resources to be warranting the highest priority in terms of certainty, urgency, and severity of impacts, as well as the importance of the resources being affected. The coastal zone of Bangladesh spans across over 47,000 km2, and has an exclusive economic zone (EEZ) of about 1,66, 000 km2 abundant with resources such as fish, shrimps, crabs, hydrocarbon and other marine products. About 35 million people live along the coast who are entirely natural resource-dependent and at the same time are extremely vulnerable to coastal erosion, cyclones and storm surges. Therefore, creation of adaptive capacity to climate change is of utmost important to reduce the magnitude of economic, social and human damage. Recently, through a Dutch initiative, which focuses the Dutch declaration CIWK (Information Services on Water and Climate) and is also related to the Water Mondiaal (Global Water) Program, the Dutch organization is offering information chains, tools and services to effectively address the climate change challenges in developing countries. In this regard, an integrated joint effort by the IMARES Wageningen University, the Royal Haskoning, LEI of the Netherlands and the University of Chittagong

Kutubdia Island Matarbari Island Maheshkhali Island

Kutubdia Island

Matarbari Island

Chakoria Sunderbans

Sonadia Island Mathamuhuri River Bakkhali River Cox's Bazar Beach


(Institute of Marine Sciences and Fisheries), Bangladesh are addressing the coastal defense management and food security issues through a concept called "Building and Farming with Nature". The objective is to promote eco-engineering technique for climate change adaptation in the coastal areas of Bangladesh where marine shellfish resources will be used in order to reduce human vulnerability to coastal erosion and tropical cyclone, and at the same time to deliver aquatic foods. The use of ecosystemengineering is applied in the Netherlands to combat erosion of tidal flats in the South western delta (Eastern Scheldt). Moreover, oyster reefs at various sites in the USA are being built against coastal erosion.

The erosion prone coastal area

Bangladesh is geographically located between the Himalayas in the north and the Bay of Bengal in the south, and this

combination of mountains and ocean regulates and modifies the climate of this region. Being located in deltas of low elevation and on the path of cyclones' activities, the country is extremely vulnerable to adverse impacts of climate change in many ways. Relevant hazards include tropical cyclones, storm surges, coastal erosion, floods and salinity intrusion. In many coastal areas and offshore islands land loss due to erosion is a chronic problem frequently hitting poor communities. Year after year huge sums of money have to be invested to protect from coastal and bank erosion by placing concrete blocks/sandbags/earthen embankment as a means of defense against waves and currents, often giving only short-term temporary solutions. Coastal stakeholders and communities are looking forward to seeing a long-lived alternative defense against the forces of nature. There comes the ecosystemengineering approach which warrants a chance after many conventional engineering efforts virtually failed to deliver the intended benefits.

Map showing erosion prone areas in the central and south-eastern seaboards of Bangladesh


Overview of conventional coastal defense mechanisms

Among the coastal areas and chars/islands Kutubdia, Sonadia, Moheshkhali, Kalatali and Himchari are facing the most severe erosion problem. Loss of invaluable natural stretches of land and culturally occupied lands puts the environment and community livelihood in those areas under immense stress. Some areas are subject to continuous erosion, thus risk of further loss of land is still very high. However, not much has been done to curb erosion

or for long-term protection of these erosion-prone areas. Conventional barrier techniques, such as putting concrete blocks, earthen dikes or sand filled bags/tubes, which are costly to build and require high maintenance costs and efforts, are generally seen to be the only action taken against waves and currents. Despite the potentials of being long-term sustainable defense with other less expensive soft-engineering alternatives, such as beach/shore nourishment, wave barrier fencing, dune recontouring or dune grass planting, including shellfish and artificial reefs as coastal defense apparently have not being tested anywhere.

Conventional engineering structures for shore protection (a&b) concrete blocks (c) sand filled tubes (d) earthen embankment


The ecosystem-engineer in coastal defense

'Ecosystem engineers' are organisms that create, modify or maintain habitats, either through their activities or through the structures that they create. In consequence they often have effects on other biota and their interactions, on the flow of resources and on ecosystem processes. Some shellfish/bivalve species in the coastal waters of Bangladesh such as oyster (Crassostrea madrasensis), green mussel (Perna viridis) and clam (Meretrix meretrix) can be potentially used as ecosystem engineers or bio-builders and grown naturally to implement ecosystem-based solutions for coastal defense. These organisms are capable of forming conspicuous habitats that influence tidal flow, wave action and sediment dynamics in the coastal ecosystem and, in doing so, modify patterns of sediment transport, deposition, consolidation, and stabilization processes. Therefore, the concept of ecosystem-engineering offers greater promise for shoreline protection and coastal defense, for example to prevent erosion or to act as wave dampers. Besides, the bivalve reefs also support habitat for numerous species of fish, crustaceans and shellfish, can provide food, and contribute to a healthier ecosystem with multiple benefits and functions.

ECOBAS: a modest initiative

The eco-engineered coastal defense integrated with sustainable aquatic food production in Bangladesh (ECOBAS) is a

collaborative research between Dutch organization (IMARES Wageningen UR, LEI and Royal Haskoning) and the Institute of Marine Sciences & Fisheries (IMSF), University of Chittagong. Key objective of the project is to provide the coastal people of Bangladesh with an alternative technique for climate change adaptation, by using the natural resistance of shellfish reefs against hydrodynamic forces in order to protect human life and property from erosion and flooding as well as to deliver a source of aquatic food. Although earlier attempts were made for shellfish culture, but it was not entirely sure whether wild oyster larvae (spats) were able to settle on hard substrates on the mudflats of Bangladesh and grow to commercial sizes. Therefore, initially it was decided to do a feasibility study of the project on two experimental sites near Cox's Bazar: the Adinath temple jetty at Moheshkhali island (TJM) and the Ali Akbar Dail (AAD) village at Kutubdia island. In these areas, natural oysters are found to attach with artificial hard substrates like jetty and bridge pillars, sluice gates of saltpans and concrete blocks placed for shore protection. This suggests that oyster, mussel and clam stocks exist in subtidal gullies, where they are exploited by local tribal people through diving. Also oysters that grow on outlet sluices for saltpan irrigation seem to be exploited by the tribal people, as shown by shell middens near these structures. Given the fact that oysters occur on the sites on hard substrates and not as intertidal beds, the main factor for oyster bed development on the bottom is the availability of proper substrate. Therefore, it can be hypothesized that the absence of intertidal beds is due to sediment instability, that prevents successful settlement and growout of oysters, either


because shell fragments and alike are completely lacking, or once settled, the oysters cannot survive. This hypothesis was tested by providing substrate in various modalities and monitoring spats settlement, growth and survival at the sites. The empirical testing was carried out between April and November 2012.

organisms were died at different time points. Other factors that were occurring include periods of low salinity due to river runoff and monsoon rainfall, but predation by crabs and birds were not considered limiting. Fouling organisms such as barnacles, sea anemones and gastropods were visible on the substrate.

ECOBAS findings
From April to November 2012, the settlement of wild oyster larvae, and their survival and growth on four different hard substrates, such as i) stones or rubble, ii) live oysters, iii) windowpane shells, and iv) oyster shells, were monitored. The bamboo mattresses with substrates (on which oyster larvae can settle) were placed in the intertidal zone (i.e. lower and higher water line) along the coast of Cox's Bazar, the Kutubdia and the Moheshkhali islands. At each level in the intertidal zone two mattresses were positioned directly on the mudflat surface and two mattresses were positioned 25 cm above the surface of the mudflat. Also data on water quality parameters (salinity, oxygen, turbidity, and temperature), amount of spatfall, sediment samples, and erosion/accretion rates were collected and analysed fortnightly. The results on the settlement, growth and survival of spats indicate that the selected field sites are suitable for natural spatfall and for oyster growing. The dynamics of required environmental conditions were also favourable for oyster growth and survival. The main threats were siltation due to high sediment dynamics throughout the season, and water currents and tidal surges during the monsoon months. High turbidity limits the food uptake and respiration by spats/oysters, thus the

Potential values of ECOBAS

Unfortunately, coastal shorelines are among the most degraded and threatened habitats in the world because of their sensitivity to sea level rise, storms and increased utilization by human. Although the introduction of hardened structures (hardengineering defences) may adequately mitigate shoreline retreat, the ecological damages that result from their presence can be colossal. For sustainable shoreline protection, creation/planting of naturally-occurring biogenic habitats (also known as 'living shorelines') has garnered attention over the last decade. Living shoreline with oyster reefs features multicomponent connectivity of mangroves, sea grass succession, molluscs farming, fisheries recruitment, biodiversity enhancement, promoting sediment accretion, reducing sediment erosion, and attenuating erosive wave energies with cross-disciplinary ecological benefits. The phenotypic consequences are the resiliency of coastal community, improved food and nutrition security, diversified income generating options and strengthened livelihood. In brief, given adequate recruitment and survival, oyster reefs could be self-sustaining elements of coastal protection and provision of ecosystem goods and services.


ECOBAS Activities : Visuals

Project site selection tour

Consultation with local leaders

Planning and discussions on mattress instalation

Close-up views of different substrate materials

Experimental mattreses with different substrate materials


ECOBAS Activities : Visuals

Winding coir rope around bamboo for installation

Experimental bamboo mattreses prepared for installation

Installation of trial experiment at Maheshkhali

Installation of trial experiment at Kutubdia

Mud-ski developed for field data collection in mud flat

Measurement of effective wave height


ECOBAS Activities : Visuals

Chemical analysis of water samples in the field

Measurement of sediment dynamics

Sediment cores taken from mudflat

Meeting with local administrator (UNO, Maheshkhali)

Visit to shell collector's home

Focus group discussion with shell collectors


Anticipated benefits of living shore

Up-scaling of ECOBAS
The information derived from the feasibility study suggests that the two selected sites have the potential for development of intertidal oyster reefs to be installed by the end of 2012. A pilot experiment will, therefore, be put on a larger scale for an extended period of time; and based on the outcomes of the trial, the activities are likely to be upscaled into a full blown oyster reef in future for coastal defense and food production.

Potentials for forward linkage

Although oysters are not sold in the markets, the tribal people living in coastal areas consume oysters from wild catches. The meat of oysters is rich in zinc and is also an excellent source of iron, calcium, selenium, Vitamin A and Vitamin B12. Zinc is known to promote brain development; therefore, children of all ages need zinc. Oysters can be retailed live/fresh either in local markets or sold directly to restaurants as live. Moreover, people may be interested in farming oysters for reasons such as shells and pearls, thus aquaculture of oysters holds great economic promise for Bangladesh.


Such a delicious oyster dish may show up on your table soon. (Source: Internet)