Tiny Island, Fought Over by India & Bangladesh, Vanishes Into the Sea

By Andrew Moseman | March 25, 2010 10:03 am

Bay_of_bengalRemember that time you and your sibling couldn’t stop fighting over a toy, so your mom wouldn’t let either one of you have it? It seems the same thing happens to unhappy neighboring countries and Mother Nature.

The island in the Bay of Bengal that Bangladesh called South Talpatti and India called New Moore or Purbasha appeared after a devastating cyclone, and it appeared right near the territorial boundary between the two. Decades of fighting over the uninhabited speck of land led to no political resolution. But now there’s a perfectly clear geographical resolution: The sea has reclaimed the island, scientists say.

According to oceanographer Sugata Hazra, the island was never very big, peaking at around 1.3 miles by 1.1 miles. The island began shrinking in the 1990s, part of an 81-square-mile decline in land mass in the Bay of Bengal’s Sunderbans mudflats over the last 40 years, Hazra said. And 27 square miles more has been lost to erosion. In the 1990s, the island was only 2 meters above sea level [Los Angeles Times]. Some experts say that in addition to erosion, rising sea levels caused by global warming are also to blame. Oceanographer Sugata Hazra, who discovered the island’s disappearance while looking at satellite photos, argues that sea-level rise caused by climate change was ”surely” a factor in the island’s inundation…. ‘The rate of sea-level rise in this part of the northern Bay of Bengal is definitely attributable to climate change,” he said [Sydney Morning Herald].

And this island is hardly alone in its shrinkage; people have already abandoned other isles in the bay. The island of Lohachara was abandoned in 1996, while 48 per cent of Ghoramara is reportedly underwater. Thousands of so-called climate-change refugees have already fled. At least 10 other islands are said to be immediately at risk [The Independent].

So why did the two nations spend so much time fighting over a tiny island with no future? Location, location, location. It sits right in the mouth of the Hariabhanga River, the boundary between India and Bangladesh. Technically, possession of the island depends on which side of the island the main channel of the river flows. That has never been agreed by the two countries [The Independent]. The island’s strategic importance, then, has led to some unusual gambits. In 1981 India dispatched navy ships to plant its flag on the island and try to cement its claim. Says Sanjoy Hazarika, a policy analyst based in New Delhi, “This didn’t go down as a great moment of Indian diplomacy” [Los Angeles Times].

The rising seas in the Bay of Bengal are cause for concern, especially with the low-lying Bangladesh mainland home to so many people. But with South Talpatti/New Moore, it’s hard not to feel at least a small satisfaction at seeing the hubris of nations earn its just reward: nothing.

Related Content:
DISCOVER: A Perfect Storm Forecast, looking at the Bay of Bengal
80beats: “Catastrophic” Sea Level Rise Is a Real Threat, Coral Records Suggest
80beats: A Rising Tide Swamps All Coasts: New Estimates of Sea Level Rise Spell Global Trouble
80beats: Maldives President Says His Country Must Save Up for a New Homeland

Image: Wikimedia Commons / Nafis Ahmed Kuntal

  • kazi hasan

    About 70 million people in coastal Bangladesh will lose everything bt 2025. Where will we go?

  • http://drvitelli.typepad.com Romeo Vitelli

    Ever read Jingo by Terry Pratchett? Same thing, really.

  • ChH

    Newsflash – 2-meter high island submerged by 4 cm rise in water level! read all about it!

  • Robert E

    ChH —
    Newsflash! “Factor” does not equal “Sole Cause”

  • ChH

    Robert, never mind – you’re right. If only the sea had stayed at the level it was in 1995, instead of rising by 4 cm, I’m sure the Island would still be there, and probably growing to boot.

  • Pat

    The island didn’t even exist 100 years ago. Random weather patterns made it appear and disappear. Tying this to global warming is ridiculous.

  • Cory

    Can’t Bangladesh just run a Holland?

    Anyway, blaming this on climate change just weakens the arguments in its favor by misrepresenting it. This is primarily a regional occurrence born of regional factors.

  • Keith Peregrine

    The writer fails to point out that in delta regions, the land naturally sinks due to the high water content of the land. As the water is pressed out due to compaction, the land will sink. All one has to do is look at the Chandeleur Islands off of eastern Louisiana.

  • Arlo

    Geezus. Global warming? Really? Is this just a total knee-jerk reaction now? Was my burnt toast somehow caused by global warming this morning?

  • m


    people just love to ignore Archimedes Principal. A guy in sandles some 2200 years ago figured this out already.

    however – it does make you think. these 2 countries wasted how much in terms of dollars or “mental energy” fighting over a rock with no resources attached to it. the author’s inference of 2 children fighting over a toy is amusingly apt

  • PaulFan

    Please understand, climate change is a farce. The sea level rise supposedly happened and swallowed the island? No. It is not possible because every other nation on the earth would also have to have experienced a rise in sea level. Don’t be ignorant. THINK FOR YOURSELF and stop believing JUNK SCIENCE.

  • rabidmob

    @ People who mentioned global warming :

    The article said, “climate change,” which would be accurate.

    @ #11: If climate change is a farce, explain the ice age.

  • m

    *rolls eyes at rabidmob*

    a quote just for rabid.

    “you can’t fix stupid”
    – Larry the Cable Guy


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