St. Martin's Island is a small island (area only 8 km) in the northeastern part of the Bay of Bengal, about 9 km south of the tip of the Cox's Bazar-Teknaf peninsula, and forming the southernmost part of Bangladesh. There is a small adjoining island that is separated at high tide, called Chhera island. It is about 8 km west of the northwest coast of Myanmar, at the mouth of the Naf River. The first settlement started just 250 years ago by some Arabian sailors who named the island ‘Zajira’. During British occupation the island was named St. Martin Island. The local names of the island are "Narical Gingira", also spelled "Narikel Jinjira/Jinjera", which means 'Coconut Island' in Bengali, and "Daruchini Dip". It is the only coral island in Bangladesh.
Most of the island's approximately 3,700 inhabitants live primarily from fishing. Besides, the other staple crops are rice and coconut. Being very common in the island, algae are collected, then dried and finally exported to Myanmar. Between October and April, the fishermen from neighboring areas bring their caught fishes to the island's temporary wholesale market. However exports of chicken, meat and other foods do come in from the mainland Bangladesh and Myanmar (Burma). As the centre and the south are mainly farmland and makeshift huts, most of the permanent structures are around the far north of the island.
During the rainy season, because of the dangerous conditions on the Bay of Bengal, the inhabitants have no scope to go to the mainland (teknaf) and their life can become dangerous. There is now a hospital on the island, but in the past there has often been no doctor.
The only way to reach the place is the water transportation i.e. boats and ships (mostly for tourists) from Teaknaf. Do not expect to find taxis, tarred roads or electricity here in the island. Except for the larger hotels that run on generators, there is no electricity supply from the national grid in the island since a dangerous hurricane in the year 1999. The island is all about sun, sea and palm trees. During the day, the island comes alive with water and beach sports, with beach parties and bonfires lighting up the evening skies.
From 1989 to 2004, non-residential Bangladeshis and foreigners were the only people permitted on the island; however, this has changed and now residential Bangladeshis are allowed. St. Martin's Island has become a popular tourist spot. Currently, five shipping liners run daily trips to the island, including Shahid Sher Niabat, L C T Kutubdia, Eagle, Keari Cruise & Dine and Keari-Sindbad. Tourists can book their trip either from Chittagong or from Cox's Bazar. The surrounding coral reef of the island has an extension named Chera Dwip. A small bush is there, which is the only green part of Chera Dwip, enhancing the beauty of this island. People do not live on this part of the island, so it is advisable for the tourists to go there early and come back by afternoon.
In the past five years St. Martin's visitor population has increased dramatically. While this situation has proven to be lucrative for the islanders, it is causing the natural beauty of the island to deteriorate. Presently there are many efforts being put forth to preserve the several endangered species of turtles that nest on the island, as well as the corals, some of which are found only on Narikel Jinjera. Pieces of the coral reef are being removed in order to be sold to tourists. Nesting turtles are sometimes taken for food, and their hatchlings are often distracted by the twinkling lights along the beach. Species of fish, a few just recently discovered, are being overfished. Every year the fishermen must venture further out to sea to get their catch. Most of them use motorless boats.
It is possible to walk around the island in a day because it measures only 8 km (3 sq. mile), shrinking to about 5 km (2 sq. mi) during high tide. The island exists only because of its coral base, so removal of that coral risks erosion of the beaches. Because of this, St. Martin's has lost roughly 25% of its coral reef in the past seven years.
Shootings of St. Martin's fishermen
Fishing is one of largest professional activities of St. Martin's Island's 5,500 residents; however, territorial disputes between Myanmar and Bangladesh have resulted in a state of tension between the countries that can erupt into violence, often targeting unarmed Bangladeshi fishermen. Below is a brief summary of shooting incidents against St. Martin's fishermen:
Fishing boats on St. Martin's
On October 7, 1998 between three and five Bangladeshi fishermen were killed by Burmese Navy forces just off the coast of St. Martin's Island.
On September 8, 1999 one Bangladeshi fisherman was shot and killed by Burmese Navy forces near St. Martin's Island. Nine crewmen from the victim's fishing boat abandoned their boat and swam for their lives and were rescued by Bangladeshi forces, and the Bangladeshi government lodged a formal protest note to Myanmar.
On August 20, 2000 the Bangladeshi police reported that Burmese border guards had shot and killed four Bangladeshi fishermen off the coast of St. Martin's Island.
In 2011 pirates attacked fishermen 5 km off the coast of St. Martin's Island and killed four of them.
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