The Sundarbans mangrove forest, a natural wonder and one of the largest continuous blocks of mangrove forests in the world, stretches across south-western Bangladesh. Local communities living along the fringes of this UNESCO World Heritage Site and the Ramsar Wetland Sanctuary, in the districts of Sathkhira and Khulna, are highly dependent on forest resources for their lives and livelihoods. Natural phenomena and the overexploitation of natural resources, including by growing human populations with few alternative livelihood opportunities, pose a threat to this delicate mangrove forest ecosystem.
Relief International’s (RI) ecotourism project in the Sundarbans Impact Zone aims to lessen local communities’ dependence on forest resources by supporting them to explore ecotourism as an alternative income generating source, and develop their options as eco-entrepreneurs and service providers in the ecotourism value chain. The project’s overall objective is to strengthen local livelihoods and enhance respect for local culture, communities – including minority ethnic groups – and ecology through the development of ecotourism, cultural tourism and entrepreneurship. The initiative also instils a sense of respect and responsibility among tourists, encouraging them to buy local products, ensure that they have the least amount of impact on the surrounding environment, and understand that their contributions assist the conservation of the neighbouring mangrove forest.