Baikka Beel Permanent Wetland Sanctuary


Bangladesh is a party to all the major biodiversity and climate change related conventions, including the Convention on Biological Diversity, Ramsar Convention on Wetlands of International Importance, United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species, and many others. While Bangladesh has been responsive to meeting the international obligations, it has been proactive domestically to address the climate change and conservation challenges. Bangladesh considers climate change as a development challenge and integrates the issue in all development plans and actions. The focus on the conservation of the dwindling natural capital, Bangladesh has increased the number of forest protected areas (PAs) under the Bangladesh Forest Department (BFD) and declared 13 degraded terrestrial and wetland ecosystems as Ecologically Critical Area (ECA) managed by the Department of Environment (DoE).

The Hail Haor and Baikka Beel

Traditionally, the productive waterbodies have been treated as a source of revenue. Leasing out the waterbodies by the Ministry of Land (MoL) to commercial interests has been a common practice. However, to ensure conservation of the country’s wetland resources, particularly freshwater fish, the Bangladesh National Fish Policy 1998 imposed a provision to establish permanent fish sanctuaries in the haors, rivers, and beels. Accordingly, the MoL declared over 200 waterbodies as permanent sanctuaries to be managed by the Department of Fisheries (DoF). Most of the permanent sanctuaries are, however, poorly managed.

The story of the Baikka Beel is different. Located at the Hail Haor[1] under the Moulavi Bazar District about 200 km northeast of Dhaka, the Baikka Beel is a small yet iconic freshwater wetland of international stature. Following a detailed planning process for about a decade, the MoL decided to reserve Baikka Beel as a permanent wetland sanctuary. Currently the size of the sanctuary is 170 hectares[2]. The current shape of Baikka Beel is the result of 25 years of ecological interventions by many development projects, particularly supported by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID)[3] as well as the goodwill of the Government of Bangladesh (GoB), particularly the MoL.

Once a completely degraded ecosystem, a combination of community-based conservation supported by the GoB has succeeded in restoring wetland biodiversity and wild fish production at Baikka Beel. From 2003 to 2006, major habitat restoration took place. Small-scale dredgers deepened some silted-up areas, and some modest areas were re-excavated by hand. Submerged concrete hexapods and pipes were placed to shelter fish. Over 11,000 swamp trees were planted, and now form a mature swamp forest. Baikka Beel sanctuary acts as a fish bank protecting native brood fish in the dry season and providing a safe place for spawning. This ensures native fish can repopulate the entire Hail Haor, where 106 fish species have been recorded. This helped to double fish catches outside of the sanctuary in the rest of the haor – from 200 kg/ha/year in 1999-2000 to 400 kg/ha/year since 2010. Baikka Beel is a beautiful wetland where thousands of lilies and lotus bloom. Waterbird numbers increased from a few hundred to over 10,000 each year. By 2023, 215 species of bird have been recorded within Baikka Beel including nine globally threatened species. A nest box system for Cotton Pygmy Geese has helped these birds nest successfully.

The ecologically vibrant Baikka Beel has become a very popular tourist destination. In 2021 and 2022, roughly 300,000 tourists, bird watchers, and researchers visited the sanctuary. In 2010, the Baikka Beel joined the Wetland Link International (network of wetland centers) thus gaining international attention. Record number of wintering waterbirds in the sanctuary was evident. The Baikka Beel, Lawachara National Park (LNP), tea estates, and lakes around make Sreemongal a central tourist attraction, which, with matching communications and promotion can make Sreemongal the tourist capital of Bangladesh.

Finance and Management

  • Since 2003 Baragangina Resource Management Organization (RMO) has been given the responsibility by the MoL for protecting and managing the sanctuary. It is a voluntary organization comprising of fishers, farmers, women, and local leaders from Baruna village, Kalapur union, Sreemangal upazila. The RMO was registered under the Department of Social Welfare. In accordance with its constitution, it elects office bearers, prepares, and implements annual work plans, employs guards, and keeps records and accounts. It protects the sanctuary, pays the nominal lease fee to the GoB, and educates the wider community on conservation and sustainable use.
  • The sanctuary management plan was developed in 2006 through a participatory process with local stakeholders and approved by the co-management body. An endowment fund was established by the GoB, particularly the Ministry of Fisheries and Livestock (MoFL) with support from USAID. As set out in an order from MoFL, the interest generated is under the control of an Upazila-level committee headed by the Upazila Nirbahi Officer (UNO), with the Senior Upazila Fisheries Officer (SUFO) as the member-secretary. This specifies that a major part of the interest generated is to be disbursed to the RMOs as grants to cover the management costs (particularly for the salaries of the guards) and for habitat restoration and maintenance activities. A separate smaller part of the interest generated is to be used to cover the costs of government supervision visits and meetings.
  • With the nature tourism infrastructure in place and tourists, particularly bird watchers flocking together at the sanctuary, the RMO decided to run a controlled nature tourism venture. The decision was taken at a stakeholder workshop on June 15, 2005, chaired by the then UNO. Under the management plan, the RMO could collect entry fees from visitors to generate some funds for maintaining visitor facilities and operating costs. A decision was made at the Upazila Fisheries Resources Development Committee (UFRDC) meeting held on November 8, 2012, to allow the RMO to collect entry fee at the sanctuary. Visitor infrastructure comprising two observation towers, an interpretation center, two small bridges, toilets, and interpretive materials and displays were designed by volunteers from the United Kingdom and Australia.
  • Recognizing the importance of Baikka Beel, and the need for RMO to have access to moral, advisory, and financial support in the long term, a group of environmentalists, birdwatchers, and well-wishers (including former government officials) came together in 2018 to form “Friends of Baikka Beel” (FOBB). The aim is to provide financial and advisory supports to the RMO and ensure that Baikka Beel remains a healthy, biologically diverse, and ecologically valuable wetland protected for future generations.


  • Threats to Community Wellbeing and National Economy: The economic value of Baikka Beel is outstanding. A study conducted in 2000 estimated that the economic value of Hail Haor is $650 million/ha. It was also concluded the value of the conserved ecosystem is at least double when compared to the value of agricultural production. The aquatic products (fish and others) provides the poor communities with protein-rich diets and income. Degradation of Baikka Beel is therefore depriving the dependent communities of huge economic gains.
  • Administrative Interference and Cancellation of Entry Fee Collection:
    • Recently, a GoB high official visited the sanctuary and questioned the authority of the RMO to collect entry fees and brought the issue up to the Deputy Commissioner (DC), Moulavi Bazar. The DC took it seriously and convened a meeting on March 14, 2022, of the District Fisheries Resources Development Committee (DFRDC). The meeting, in absence of adequate information on the tenure rights, decided to cancel the entry fee collection.
    • The specified interest from the Endowment Fund is supposed to go to the RMO for conservation and security work such as paying the salary of the security guards. But the Upazila committee stopped disbursing the specified funds to the RMO. Instead, they started paying the security guards’ salary directly.
  • Demoralized Community: The adverse, abrupt administrative decision to stop entry fee collection has demoralized the community at large, particularly the RMO members. Stopping the endowment income disbursement to the RMO has seriously affected the authority of the RMO. The guards are taking advantage of this uncalled-for situation. In one hand, they do not perform their duties and, on the other, they do not obey the directives of the RMO. Illegal hunting and trapping of migratory/resident birds are going unabated.
  • Revisiting the Nature Tourism Facility: The current infrastructure is inadequate to run a secure, sophisticated, and sustainable nature tourism venture. The GoB, development partners, and the civil society should join hands in developing the facility to a fitting standard. This will entail direct investment as well as capacity building of the RMO, including developing   a long-term strategy and promotional materials, and training ecotour guides.
  • Misplaced Elite Power: While the RMO has been devoted to managing the sanctuary and has received global attention, the local power structure has failed to appreciate its significance. The pressure on the sanctuary keeps increasing. For example, unfortunately, on 10 April 2013, a mob ransacked the ecosystem within half a day, disempowering the commons. The administration, project’s members, co-management organizations (CMOs), and local people arrived to try and save it, but failed to the elite power.
  • Missing Citizen’s Voice: Baikka Beel is a pride possession primarily of the people of greater Sylhet region. Since the Baikka Beel contributes provenly to the national economy and international repute, there should be a citizen’s movement to ensure safety of this unique ecosystem.

[1] The wet season area of Hail Haor is approximately 14,000 ha, whereas the dry season area is typically just over 3,000 ha. The old records say that the haor has 131 beels. However, only 88 currently exists at present and the rest are completely dried up/degraded. About 175,000 people live in 61 villages around the haor. Over 80% of these people fish in the haor, many as a regular profession.

[2] The area protected as a permanent sanctuary is 170 hectares of which 118.87 hectares has been permanently allocated by the MoL.

[3]Since 1998, the USAID-funded co-management projects, starting with the groundbreaking Management of Aquatic Ecosystems through Community Husbandry (MACH) project, has been demonstrating a few ecologically sound resource management techniques in the Hail Haor. The mantra of those initiatives was: Let the Nature do its job. Through the co-management governance structures – the Resource Management Organizations (RMOs) – MACH and subsequently two follow-on initiatives (Integrated Protected Area Co-management – IPAC, and Climate-Resilient Ecosystems and Livelihood – CREL projects) created 29 small and large (area 0.07 – 100.5 acre) fish sanctuaries in 14 waterbodies (river, canal and beels).Baikka Beel Permanent Wetland Sanctuary