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The Sundarbans

Factors affecting the property in 2001*
  • Oil and gas
  • Other Threats:

    High level of salinity

Factors* affecting the property identified in previous reports
Governments of Bangladesh and India were encouraged to co-operate with interested parties and consider initiating actions that could eventually lead to the joint inscription of The Sundarbans World Heritage site of Bangladesh and the Sundarbans National Park World Heritage site of India as a single entry on the World Heritage List
International Assistance: requests for the property until 2001
Requests approved: 0
Total amount approved : 0 USD
Missions to the property until 2001**
Conservation issues presented to the World Heritage Committee in 2001

In June 2001, the twenty-fifth session of the Bureau was informed of the plan of the Government of Bangladesh to explore “block 5” of the Sundarbans Reserve Forest for oil and gas. Shell has publicly declared that it has no plans for exploration activities in the Special Reserved Forest (SRF).  The World Heritage site comprises three sections of the SRF at the coastal edge (see map in Annex 1 to this document).  In a letter to IUCN Bangladesh, Shell note that: 

·       The Sundarbans is also a Ramsar site.  The Ramsar Convention has confirmed that the Ramsar site is synonymous with the SRF and does not extend beyond the SRF.

·       Shell will carry out extensive environmental and social studies and stakeholder engagement before conducting any activities elsewhere in Block 5.

·       As regards the socio-economic impact zone outside the northern peripheries of the SRF, Shell will be discussing the implications of oil and gas exploration with the Ministry of Environment and Forest.

·       Shell recognizes that one of the main objectives of the Asian Development Bank (ADB) -Government of Bangladesh (GoB) Sundarbans Biodiversity Conservation Project (SBCP) is to reduce the poverty level of the 3.5 million people living in the impact zone and provide them with alternative livelihood options and encourage them to leave the forest.   

·       By providing economic activities, and in the case of successful exploration of clean gas, Shell can add value to the objectives of the SBCP and be a party to providing sustainable development opportunities in the region.

·       Shell-Bangladesh is aware of the need to consider the potential indirect impacts on the SRF of any of its future activities elsewhere. Such exploration activities, whether inside the socio-economic impact zone, or elsewhere in Block 5, will be continued only after full environmental and social impact assessments and in consultations with all stakeholders.

·       The current phase of the project consists of exploration only. If hydrocarbons are discovered and it is decided subsequently to develop them, further EIA and SIA studies will be undertaken, together with continuing stakeholder consultations.


On 20 September 2001 Shell convened its first workshop in Dhaka to share information about the ensuing work programme, oil and gas exploration and emergent issues and questions. It distributed briefing papers to stakeholders and invited responses and discussion.  A web site has been launched with updated information on Shell’s activities in Bangladesh: http://www.shell.com/bd/. IUCN Bangladesh is in discussion with Shell about their activities and will continue to advise them as and when requested. Shell is hosting, in co-operation with World Bank, a high level discussion on extractive industry (primarily oil and gas) on 21 and 22 October 2001, in Washington, USA. Representatives of the Centre and IUCN/WCPA will participate in the event and the main outcomes of the discussion will be reported to the Bureau at the time of its session.


The Steering Committee, established by GoB for smooth implementation of the SBCP, has invited IUCN Bangladesh to be a member.  As part of the SBCP, IUCN Bangladesh will conduct independent monitoring of biodiversity of the Sundarbans, drawing on wetland, marine and protected area specialists from its international network. IUCN Bangladesh reports that the GoB has agreed to a second biodiversity project for the World Heritage site. The UN Foundation has provided a planning grant for a project to be executed jointly by UNDP Offices in Bangladesh and India for promoting trans-border co-operation between the two countries for improving World Heritage biodiversity conservation. The planning grant project activities are underway and a larger proposal for possible financing by the UNF and UNDP will be the principal outcome of the planning phase. UNDP has appointed consultants for preparation of the project proposal.


A media report claims that “due to the high level of salinity, 30 Bengal Tigers have died within the past 10 years.  Autopsy reports revealed that liver damage has caused the death of these Tigers”, have been brought to the attention of IUCN. The article mentions a proposal by the Bangladesh Forest Department for a five-year, US$2 million project called "Tiger Project: Sundarbans" which, though proposed in 1991, has not been implemented. IUCN has received advice that salinity levels are not a special threat to the tigers in the Sundarbans as they have adapted to water with salinity levels higher than in other parts of its range in South Asia.  There may well be indirect threats to the tigers if salinity-induced changes impact other components of its habitat; i.e. its principal prey species, and habitat structures and distribution.


IUCN has been informed that the ‘crown death’ of Sundri trees, the dominant mangrove species in the Sundarbans, could be attributable to salinity, sedimentation, pest attack and natural successional processes, although salinity is frequently cited as the primary reason. The SBCP has initiated a study on the death of the Sundri trees. IUCN has received preliminary media reports of a planned ‘Biodiversity Project’ - comprised of an ‘Ecopark’ and mangrove arboretum - for Karamjal, situated in the Sundarbans East Zone under the Chandpai range.  Karamjal is a captive breeding centre for many critically endangered species of the Sundarbans.  The Ecopark will cover an area of 30 hectares and play a vital role in conserving forest resources while also being a tourist attraction for international visitors.  

Decisions adopted by the Committee in 2001
25 BUR V.119-121
The Sundarbans (Bangladesh)

V.119     The Bureau noted that the Government of Bangladesh has approved a plan for Shell to explore blocks of the Sundarbans for oil and gas. The block known as ‘Block 5’ contains the Sundarbans Reserved Forest, which includes the World Heritage site. 40% of this Block constitutes the Sundarbans Reserved Forest. The IUCN Office in Bangladesh is maintaining contact with Shell who have advised that they intend to conduct aero-magnetic and seismic surveys in Block-5. Aero-magnetic surveys will involve low flights by specialized aircraft. Activities related to seismic surveys will be conducted in areas outside of the Sundarbans World Heritage site. Shell has assured IUCN Bangladesh in letters of August and December 2000, that they do not plan to survey the Sundarbans World Heritage site and that all their activities will be conducted outside the Reserved Forest.

V.120     Following the declaration of the Sundarbans as a World Heritage site in 1999, the Bangladesh Government launched a six-year Sundarbans Biodiversity Conservation Project (SBCP) at a cost of US$ 77 million. The project, which began on 1 April 2000, will develop a system for the conservation of biodiversity in the Sundarbans Reserved Forest, including a marine zone of 20km off the coast. The project will also attempt to reduce pressures on the forests arising from local people, and will promote environmental awareness and support for the conservation of the Sundarbans Reserved Forest.

V.121     The Bureau requested the State Party to provide a report to the Centre, before 15 September 2001, on the activities of Shell in relation to oil and gas exploration and the potential impacts on the World Heritage site to enable the twenty-fifth extraordinary session of the Bureau to undertake a review of the state of conservation of the site. The Bureau commended the State Party for its ongoing work, in particular through the Sundarbans Biodiversity Action Project, to protect this site.

Reports on SOC of natural properties inscribed noted by the Committee


Reports on the state of conservation of natural properties inscribed on the World Heritage List noted by the Committee

Great Barrier Reef (Australia)

Fraser Island (Australia)

The Sundarbans (Bangladesh)

Belovezhskaya Pushcha/Bialowieza Forest (Belarus/Poland)

Gros Morne National Park (Canada)

Nahanni National Park (Canada)

Los Katios National Park (Colombia) 

Caves of the Aggtelek Karst and Slovak Karst (Hungary/Slovakia)

The Committee noted that the issues raised concern only the Slovak part of this transboundary site.

Sundarbans National Park (India) 

The Delegate of India informed the Committee that there is no National Waterways Project that is planned or likely to impact this site.

Kaziranga National Park (India)

Komodo National Park (Indonesia)

Lorentz National Park (Indonesia)

The Observer of Indonesia thanked the Australian authorities for their financial assistance. He informed the Committee that it would be difficult to comply with the deadline of 1 February and that a report could be provided by the end of March 2002.

Aeolian Islands (Italy)

The Observer of Italy confirmed that there was a court decision on 4 December 2001, which is not yet public, but that it is hoped to be available soon. She informed the Committee that the collaboration between the autonomous regional Government and the central Government has commenced and that a meeting will take place to find a solution. 

Banc d'Arguin National Park (Mauritania)

The Delegate of Egypt brought to the attention of the Committee the importance of protecting the wetlands, which are known to be important rest places for the migratory birds along their routes. He suggested that the World Heritage Centre should have a plan defining the wetlands, which are important for the birds and to use this information for establishing "satellite" World Heritage sites. IUCN informed of the co-operation between the World Heritage Centre and the Ramsar Convention as well as with Bird Life International for the protection of the wetlands. He also highlighted the importance of the surrounding areas to the World Heritage sites and the links with the Man and Biosphere programme for the protection of the sites. The Secretariat informed of the on-going discussions with the Secretariat of the Convention of Migratory Species to establish a Memorandum of Understanding between these two Conventions.

Gunung Mulu National Park (Malaysia)

Sian Ka'an (Mexico)

The Delegate of Mexico informed that the confirmation of the Ecological Land-Use Plan is in its final phase and consequently she asked that the deadline for the report requested by the Bureau be set for 15 May 2002 for examination at the twenty-sixth session of the Committee in June.

Royal Chitwan National Park (Nepal)

Western Caucasus (Russian Federation)

Golden Mountains of Altai (Russian Federation)

Doñana National Park (Spain)

Sinharaja Forest Reserve (Sri Lanka)

Ha Long Bay (Vietnam)

Giant's Causeway and Causeway Coast (United Kingdom)

St Kilda (United Kingdom)

Serengeti National Park (United Republic of Tanzania)

Great Smoky Mountains National Park (United States of America)

Canaima National Park (Venezuela)


The Bureau may wish to adopt the following:

“The Bureau commends the State Party for its efforts, in particular via the SBCP and other projects, to strengthen conservation of the site, and to provide alternative livelihood options to forest exploitation so that local communities acknowledge the positive influence World Heritage site protection has for the whole region. The Committee welcomes Shell’s careful and transparent planning of its hydro-carbon exploration activities in Block 5 and its commitment to undertake full social, economic and environmental impact studies before any production occurs, and to continuing open dialogue with stakeholders. The Committee notes that proposals for oil and gas exploration are outside the boundaries of the World Heritage site but expresses its opposition to any mining or exploration activities within the site. All oil and gas exploration as well as other development activities in the vicinity of the World Heritage site must be carefully planned to minimise environmental and social impacts”.

Report year: 2001
Date of Inscription: 1997
Category: Natural
Criteria: (ix)(x)
Documents examined by the Committee
arrow_circle_right 25COM (2001)

* : The threats indicated are listed in alphabetical order; their order does not constitute a classification according to the importance of their impact on the property.
Furthermore, they are presented irrespective of the type of threat faced by the property, i.e. with specific and proven imminent danger (“ascertained danger”) or with threats which could have deleterious effects on the property’s Outstanding Universal Value (“potential danger”).

** : All mission reports are not always available electronically.