St. Martin’s Island is a small island (area only 3 km2) 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 Chera Dwip. It is about 8 kilometres (5 miles) west of the northwest coast of Myanmar, at the mouth of the Naf River.
History and description
Millennia ago, the island used to be an extension of the Teknaf peninsula, but at a later time some portion of this peninsula got submerged and thus the southernmost part of the aforementioned peninsula became an island, and was disconnected from the Bangladesh mainland. The first settlement started 250 years ago, in 18th century, by Arabian merchants who named the island ‘Jazira’. During British occupation the island was named after the then Deputy Commissioner of Chittagong Mr. Martin as St. Martin Island. Likely because one or more of the Arabs were Saint and whose name could not be identified. Local names of the island are “Narikel jinjira” which means ‘Coconut Island’, and “Daruchini Dwip” which means “Cinnamon island”. It is the only coral island in Bangladesh.
The island makes up the Saint Martin’s Union Parishad. It has 9 villages/areas:
1.UP complex of St. Martin’s Island
2.Paschim Para (Western Neighbourhood)
4.Uttar Para (Northern Neighbourhood)
5.Majher Para (Middle Neighbourhood)
6.Dakshin Para (Southern Neighbourhood)
7.Purba Para (Eastern Neighbourhood)
8.Konar Para (Edge Neighbourhood)
9.Nazrul Para (Neighbourhood of Nazrul)
10.Golachipa (literally “narrow neck”)
Most of the island’s approximately 3,700 inhabitants live primarily from fishing. The other staple crops are rice and coconut. Being very common on the island, algae are collected, dried, and exported to Myanmar. Between October and April, the fishermen from neighboring areas bring their caught fishes to the island’s temporary wholesale market. However, imports of chicken, meat and other foods come in from the mainland Bangladesh and Myanmar. As the centre and the south are mainly farmland and makeshift huts, most of the permanent structures are around the far north.
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 a hospital on the island, but in the past there has often been no doctor.
Biological diversity and bioprospecting potential of Saint Martin’s Island
Research by the Bangladesh Department of Environment (DoE), with the assistance of the UNDP, demonstrates that the island has a number of ecosystems, including coral-rich areas, mangroves, lagoons and stony areas. The island is a safe haven to various species of fauna. The presence of 153 species of sea weeds, 66 species of coral, 187 species of oysters, 240 species of fish, 120 species of birds, 29 species of reptiles and 29 species of mammals were recorded at the St Martin’s Island in 2010.
S.I. Paul et al. (2021) collected 9 species of marine sponges (phylum: Porifera) from the Saint Martin’s Island. These are: Niphates erecta, Mycale macilenta, Plakortis dariae, Cliona celata, Cliona carteri, Cliona viridis, Haliclona rosea, Haliclona oculata, and Hemimycale columella. Marine sponges and their associated microbes produce an enormous array of antitumor, antiviral, anti-inflammatory, immunosuppressive, antibiotic and other bioactive molecules.
S.I. Paul et al. (2021) explored a total of 15 bacterial genera comprising 31 different bacterial species from the 9 collected marine sponges of the island. Among them Bacillus subtilis strain WS1A has great probiotic potential. It can produce antimicrobial compounds and prevent motile Aeromonas septicemia disease (a major fish disease in Bangladesh) of Rohu (Labeo rohita). Bacillus subtilis strain WS1A produces different types of antimicrobial peptides. Fish (Labeo rohita) fed with extracellular products of Bacillus subtilis strain WS1A develop complete disease resistance. The metabolites and bioactive compounds derived from marine sponges and sponge microbes also afford abundant potential for pharmaceutical and biotechnological applications.
The only way to reach St. Martin’s Island is by water transportation: boats and ships (mostly for tourists) from Cox Bazar and Teknaf. The only internal transport for island is non motorized van (pulled by man.) The roads are made of concrete, and their condition are decent. All the hotels run generators until 11 PM which are not allowed afterwards, so they then rely on solar power, which is popular throughout the island. There is no electricity supply from the national grid since a hurricane in 1991. During the day, it comes alive with water and beach sports, with beach parties and bonfires.
Martin’s Island has become a tourist spot, and five shipping liners run daily trips to the island. Tourists can book their trip either from Chittagong or from Cox’s Bazar. The surrounding coral reef has an extension named Chera Dwip. A small bush is there, which is the only green part. People do not live on this part, so it is advisable for the tourists to go there early and come back by afternoon.[original research?
A number of efforts have been proposed 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 Jinjira. Pieces of the coral reef are being removed 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. Fish, a few 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 km2 (3 sq. mile), shrinking to about 5 km2 (2 sq. mi) during high tide. The island exists only because of its coral base, so removal of that coral risks erosion of the beach.citation needed
St. Martin’s lost 70% of its coral reef between 1980 and 2018 due to anthropogenic factors.
Sovereignty dispute and 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:
1.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.
2.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 it, swam for their lives, and were rescued by Bangladeshi forces. The Bangladeshi government lodged a formal protest note to Myanmar.
Keari Sindbad’ an advanced sea-going vessel with modern facilities for tourists
3.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.
4.In 2011 pirates attacked fishermen 5 km off the coast of St. Martin’s Island and killed four of them.
5.On 6 October 2018, the Government of Myanmar updated its 2015-2018 map of Myanmar Information Management Unit showing St. Martin as a part of their sovereign territory and spread the maps in two global websites. Following the event, the Myanmar Ambassador in Dhaka was summoned by the Government of Bangladesh on 6 October 2018. Rear Admiral (retd) M Khurshed Alam, maritime affairs secretary at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Government of Bangladesh handed over a strongly worded protest note to him. The Myanmar envoy said it was a “mistake” to show the St. Martin’s Island as part of his country’s territory.
Climate and weather
The best weather is usually between November and February; this is the major tourist season. Between March and July, cyclones can strike. The island was devastated by a cyclone in 1991 but has fully recovered, and was untouched by the 2004 tsunami. March to July is off-season for tourists.
Best Time for Visiting Saint Martin’s Island
1.November to February, December is the busiest. The weather is comparatively cool this time.
2. If you visit between March to July, you must see the weather forecast. If a tropical storm hits, you cannot go there.
How to reach to Saint Martin’s Island
You have to take a ship from Teknaf to reach Saint Martin’s Island.
You can come to Teknaf in several ways. But the most common way of arriving in Teknaf is from Cox’s Bazar, Dhaka, or Chittagong.
So, the routes can be:
- Dhaka –> Cox’s Bazar (400 Kilometres, 10 hours) –> Teknaf (63 Kilometres, 2 hours 30 minutes)
- Dhaka –> Teknaf (430 Kilometers, 11 Hours)
- Dhaka –> Chittagong (250 Kilometers, 6 hours) –> Teknaf (200 Kilometres, 6 hours)
- Dhaka –> Chittagong (250 Kilometers, 6 hours) –> Saint Martin’s by ship.
From Teknaf take a ship to Saint Martin’s (90 minutes to 120 minutes)
People usually choose number 1 to break the long journey and spend a night in Cox’s Bazar which has a long uninterrupted albeit crowded beach.
The time it will take for the road journey is approximate and can vary a lot depending on notorious traffic in Bangladesh.
#4 is a recent addition. A ship named Bay One has started it’s operation and will take you directly from Chittagong to Saint Martin’s in 6 to 8 hours. It departs from the Naval Beach, Water Bus Ghat in Chittagong at 11:00 PM and arrives at Saint Martin’s at 6:00 AM. It leaves for Chittagong from Saint Martin’s at 1:00 PM.
- Dhaka –> Cox’s Bazar (1 hour flight). Then Cox’s Bazar –> Teknaf (2 hours 30 minutes) –> Take a ship (90 to 120 minutes)
- Dhaka –> Chittagong (45 minutes flight) — > Saint Martin’s by an overnight Ship (6 to 8 hours)
Timing of the Ship
Only a handful of ships commute between Teknaf and Saint Martin’s island. The ships usually start between –
- 9:00 AM to 9:30 AM from Teknaf to Saint Martin’s
- 3:00 PM to 3:30 PM from Saint Martin’s to Teknaf
It means, if you arrive at Teknaf after 9:30 AM, you have to wait for another day to visit Saint Martin’s. On the other hand, you cannot leave Saint Martin’s before 3:00 PM. Make your plan accordingly because those designated ships are the only safe option for commuting to and from Saint Martin’s island. It’s strongly advisable to buy a ticket in advance during the high season. During the low season, you can buy tickets from Teknaf.
1.Keari Sindbad (+880 1727 266077)
3.M.V. Green Line
Saint Martin Hotels in Bangladesh
You will not get high standard hotels in Saint Martin’s. Try to reserve one of the following to get relatively better service:
1.Blue Marine Resorts (+880 1713 399001) – Highly recommended
2.Hotel Praasad Paradise (+880 1551 222211)
3.Music Eco Resort (+880 1613 339696)
4.Shayari Eco Resort (+880 1711 232917)
5.Hotel Abakash – Saint Martin’s Resort (+880 1716789634)
Interesting Facts about Saint Martin in Bangladesh
1.What is the local name of Saint Martin Island in Bangladesh?
It’s Narikel Jinjira, means Coconut island.
2.How many people live in Saint Martin Island in Bangladesh?
Less than 5000 people live in Saint Martin.
Information about Saint Martin in Bangladesh
- If you travel several kilometers southeast from here, you will end up in Myanmar (Burma). There is no legal border crossing between these two countries through water, so don’t try this.
- This island is only 8 Kilometre long and 1 Kilometre wide
- Most of the villagers are fishermen here. However, living in tourism is increasing.
- You will find a hospital on the island, although a doctor is not always guaranteed
- There is no electricity on the island. However, hotels have generators that supply electricity for a certain period.
- A cyclone devastated the island in 1991, the deadliest in recent time in Bangladesh
- Most of the hotels and activities take place in the far north part of the island, while the center and south belong to the locals and farms
Where to from St Martin in Bangladesh?
1.Explore the mountains of Sajek Valley
2.Pay a visit to the National Monument of Bangladesh
3.Explore the capital of Bangladesh, Dhaka
4.Read the diary of a beautiful remote village, Birishiri.
5.Take a walk to the old Dhaka in Photos