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IBRU: Centre for Borders Research

Boundary news

Boundary news Headlines

Sea level rise is blamed for submerging disputed island between Bangladesh and India

(26 March 2010)

Sea level rise has been blamed for submerging the disputed South Talpatti (Bangladesh) or New Moore (India) island located some 4 kilometers off the mouth of the Hariabhanga river near the land boundary terminus between Bangladesh and India. That is the claim of Professor Sugata Hazra, the head of oceanography at Kolkata's Jadavpur University, who suggests that global climate change has caused the sea level rise which has now almost completely submerged the island. Formed from the deposit of alluvial material in the delta of the Hariabhanga river, scientists suggest South Talpatti/New Moore Island emerged following a cyclone in 1970 and at one point measured approximately 3 km square at low tide. The island was never permanently inhabited but local Bangladeshi fisherman frequently used it during the dry season. Professor Hazra told reporters on 25 March that portions of the island were still visible but only under extreme low tide conditions. Although sea level rise may have played a role, satellite imagery has shown that the island has been gradually innundated over recent years, likely as a result of natural subsidence and erosion within the delta as much as from the rising level of the Bay of Bengal.

Both Bangladesh and India maintained claims to the island but negotiations dating back to the early 1980s never produced a settlement. Given its location just off the land boundary terminus, the island could have had a significant impact on the maritime boundary stretching out into the Bay of Bengal when using the strict equidistance formula. However, state practice and recent decisions by the International Court of Justice, including the cases between Romania and Ukraine and between Nicaragua and Honduras, indicate that small, uninhabited islands have usually been given a much reduced effect on the course of a maritime boundary when compared with their impact using strict equidistance. Perhaps partially as a result of the dispute over South Talpatti/New Moore island and disagreement over delimitation methodology, Bangladesh and India have been unable to agree a maritime boundary through bilateral negotiations. In early March 2010, the two states agreed to establish an arbitral tribunal under Annex VII of the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea that will delimit their disputed maritime boundary. As it could now only be considered a low tide elevation rather than an island, it is unclear if South Talpatti/New Moore will play any role in the delimitation of the maritime boundary between Bangladesh and India by the arbitral tribunal.

Source: 'Rising sea level settles border dispute' Matt Wade, correspondent, The Sydney Morning Herald, 25 March 2010.