From hilly evergreens and riverine grasslands to the depths of bay and stretched-out shores, more than 50 new life forms have been discovered in the country in 2020. These events remind us of the sheer resilience of nature in the face of our rampant destruction and habitual negligence
2020, a year that no one anticipated, is finally coming to an end.
Unforeseen challenges posed by a nanoscopic virus—a being neither an animal nor a plant—has largely altered our regular chores, we now call them the "new normals".
But what did this year mean for biodiversity, in particular of Bangladesh?
What length has our knowledge on nature reached after 365 days? In this leap-year, has there been any leap, great and impactful?
I went through our Earth issues, later looked up on the internet. There I was welcomed by a series of sensational news and unputdownable research papers on discoveries, redescriptions and rare sightings.
I felt compelled to dig more, and reached out to a bunch of scientists and nature enthusiasts.
While trying to sum up the situation from the perspective of a naturalist, the unexpectedly high number of new species appeared as a befitting answer for the queries posed above.
After all, other than an anthology of positive news, what else would be better to say goodbye to a rough year?
What is lurking in our water?
Our country holds the biggest delta, blessed by rivers. We have the largest bay of the planet, the Bay of Bengal.
With 1,18,813 km2 of open water, the entire northern seaboard of the Bay and the Swatch of No Ground, the largest submarine trough in the world, the aquatic habitats of Bangladesh are diverse.
As icing on the top, there is an extensive 710 km long coastline braided with numerous mudflats, tidal islands, sand dunes and the world's largest mangrove network, the Sundarbans.
In stark contrast to heterogeneous and exclusive habitats of a sub-tropical climatic region, our fish fauna is not much known.
This year, a total of 20 new species have been documented from Bangladesh, all marine.
Md Jayedul Islam, a researcher at the Aquatic Bioresource Research Lab (ABR lab), Sher-e-Bangla Agricultural University, provided me with an amazingly neat report.
The ABR lab is leading from the front, it has scored 13 names including the crown jewel Pomacentrus bangladeshius, a small damselfish never known to science before.
Two teams of researchers from Department of Zoology, University of Dhaka (DoZ, DU) have added four species; two more have been contributed by Department of Fisheries Biology and Genetics, Patuakhali Science and Technology University and one by Institute of Marine Sciences, University of Chittagong (IMS, CU).
Two sharks, in spite of largely unchecked shark and ray harvesting going on in the bay, are among the new 20.
What is surprising is that nearly all of these newly documentations are associated with Saint Martin's Island, pointing to a greater biodiversity potential than usual.
Crustaceans: Not to be omitted
Speaking more on behalf of Saint Martin's Island, the country's only oceanic formation, this year, we were blessed with five new crabs from the island waters.
Four discoveries were made by DoZ, DU and one by IMS, CU. Of the new five, an extremely poisonous crab Demania reynaudii popped up, which was unknowingly being displayed at food stalls--noted by a team of DoZ, DU.
This brings both excitement and a warning sign as there is barely any systematic environmental monitoring ongoing at the island, leaving the wildlife and the human inhabitants both prone to high risk.
Currently, the crustacean species diversity of Bangladesh hovers around the mark of 160. Compare it to the dimension of our maritime waters. The gap will be obvious.
So, what else is lurking in our water-bestowed land?
Seabirds, an owl and more
This year's biodiversity observations are very much related to the sea. Bangladesh got seven new birds in 2020, six of them are sea-faring or pelagic birds!
Sooty tern, Wedge-tailed Shearwater, Wilson's Storm-petrel, Long-tailed Skua, Bridled tern and Red-footed booby, these six sea-dependent birds, wandered off their course and visited Bangladesh due to the tropical cyclone Amphan.
Some of the observed specimens were sighted from Rajshahi, a place hundreds of miles away from shoreline.
Sayam U Chowdhury, a leading ornithologist of Bangladesh, and Zaber Ansary, a budding wildlife enthusiast, confirmed this unique summation.
The only owl record has come from the Chattogram Hill Tracts. Sadly, a specimen of Oriental Bay Owl was captured by a tribesman from Boga Lake, the photo was shared on Facebook by a bird-watcher named Nazim Uddin Khan.
The observation of three more bird species came this year after a hiatus of decades.
Greater scaup, a species of wintering duck, has been spotted from the lakes of Jahangirnagar University by Dr M M H Khan, professor of zoology.
First-time photo of Great-eared nightjar, country's largest bird of its kind, surfaced as a parabiologist of Creative Conservation Alliance (CCA) had captured image of a live-bird trapped by a tribal hunter of Bandarban.
White-tailed eagle, a massive fish-eating bird, visited Feni this December and faced a tragic death by taking poisoned preys laid out by poachers for ducks.
Not your regular arrowheads
Special mentions go to four new-to-science plant species, relatives of what we call Kochu in Bengali, and our adored arrowheads. These wild Kochus are described from forests of Lawachara National Park (LNP), Moulvibazar, and forests of Sherpur and Bandarban.
The research was done in 2015, a joint venture of National Herbarium Bangladesh (NHB) and Department of Botany (DoB), DU, and came under spotlight this year.
Additionally, two more plants, a fan-shaped palm from Khadimnagar National Park and a bushy tea-indicator plant, have been rediscovered by Dr Mohammad Zashim Uddin, professor, DoB, DU. The latter was noted after 140 years.
According to Late Dr Md Salar Khan, stalwart botanist of Bangladesh, 5,000 species of plants are believed to be present. Of these, about 3,850 of them are now in registry, based on a count made by NHB.
Herps are the champion
In 2020, the most tantalising observations on land roaming wildlife were from the group of amphibians and reptiles, the herps.
Based on years of work by CCA team published this year, we now know that 11 species of frogs and snakes are living in LNP that were previously unknown.
Another team lead by Md Abdul Wahed Chowdhury, assistant professor, DoZ, CU, reported one more new snake for Bangladesh, namely, Conandrous sand snake, from the riverine grassland network of Chapai Nawabganj.
Considering the herps, the most exciting additions are two frogs observed by Hasan Al-Razi, a promising zoologist, and his team. Both of the frogs are from genus Raorchestes, a small group of cryptic bush frog.
One of them is observed from thousand miles afar from its known distribution. The other, R. rezakhani, is absolutely new to science. It is named after one of the pioneers of wildlife biology in Bangladesh, Dr Reza Khan.
As I was looking for news, there were reports of other kinds, unsettling and forlorn. The Covid-19 pause on human life makes no difference to them, rather made things worse in cases.
There was news of wild cats and civets murdered with primal atrocity, of eagles and wintering ducks being poisoned to death to serve our palate, of dolphins being butchered and weathered under the sun for oil and quick money, of elephants being shot just to save chili saplings, of lives of all sorts being ran over by vehicles for no reason.
These news indicate that forests are being cleared patches after patches, ignored without any systematic study, and given away to accommodate us, humans.
Rivers are being tainted by tanneries and coasts are being choked by expanded ports, more ports and factories. The list goes on.
Amid the hoard of negative news, there were some positive ones as rare as the wildlife they featured. This positivity kept me going.
To me, new wildlife still popping from a crammed land is the tell-tale sign of a still-alive wilderness, surviving in spite of all the odds.
Let us care for those forests shrinking every day, rethink any construction before knowing a habitat, reconsider butchering a life that resides in our backyard.
And, let us promote and inspire the community which loves to work for the lesser life. In fact, they are the ones who ultimately get your resolutions checked off.
If otherwise, what might happen? Well, the new normal has already given us a warning.
Happy New Year.