Bangladesh is the home to the longest natural beach in the world – 125 kilometres to be exact! This beach is accessed via Cox Bazar, a popular tourist destination amongst Bangladeshis. Many visitors opt to travel to Saint Martin’s Island about 9 kilometres south from the Cox Bazar – Teknaf peninsula. Saint Martin’s Island is the only island in Bangladesh that is surrounded by coral.
St Martin’s Island is 8 kilometres west of the northwest coast of Myanmar and is quite small. The island is about 8 kilometres long and 1 kilometre wide for the most part and known locally as Narical Gingira/ Narikel Jinjira. It is easy to walk from beach to beach on this island but rickshaws are available on the island for those who want to take it easy. A number of hotels and restaurants cluster around the jetty in an area called Narikeldia. West Beach, found by going through a small village called Uttarpara is the nicest place to stay on St Martin’s Island. Explorers will find a mangrove on the southern tip of the island.
There is a pretty lagoon in the middle of Uttarpara which becomes connected to the ocean when the tide is high. Fish landing sites, bazars and schools are also found in this area. There is a fairly shallow channel between St Martin’s Island and the mainland while coral reefs are about 10 to 15 kilometres to the west-northwest of the island. The low tide exposes some small, sheltered pools with living coral colonies.
There is some good snorkelling around the island and sunrises and sunsets are spectacular.
A number of endangered species of turtles nest on the island while a number of recently discovered species of fish can be found in the surrounding waters. Olive ridley, hawksbill, leatherback and logger head turtles could all be spotted around the island.
Local populations are cashing in on the tourism industry and could be found to offer visitors bits of corral to purchase as souvenirs. The past 7 years has seen a loss of around 25% of the coral reef with conditions around the island being less favourable for regrowth at this point in time. Visitors are encourage to observe environmentally friendly and sustainable practices while visiting the island.
The island is pretty much closed to tourism except during the months of November to February. There is a Sea Truck that departs to the island each day at 10 AM and returns to the mainland at 3 PM.
St Martin’s Island is one of those small, off the beaten track places that travellers dream of visiting.
*A version of this article first appeared at www.zafigo.com