The name Sundarban can be literally translated as "beautiful forest" in the Bengali language (Shundor, "beautiful" and bon, "forest"). The name may have been derived from the Sundari trees (the mangrove species Heritiera fomes) that are found in Sundarbans in large numbers. Alternatively, it has been proposed that the name is a corruption of Samudraban, Shomudrobôn ("Sea Forest"), or Chandra-bandhe (name of a primitive tribe). However, the generally accepted view is the one associated with Sundari or Sundri trees.
The history of the area can be traced back to 200–300 AD. A ruin of a city built by Chand Sadagar has been found in the Baghmara Forest Block. During the Mughal period, the Mughal Kings leased the forests of the Sundarbans to nearby residents. Many criminals took refuge in the Sundarbans from the advancing armies of Emperor Akbar. Many have been known to be attacked by tigers. Many of the buildings which were built by them later fell to hands of Portuguese pirates, salt smugglers and dacoits in the 17th century. Evidence of the fact can be traced from the ruins at Netidhopani and other places scattered all over Sundarbans.
The legal status of the forests underwent a series of changes, including the distinction of being the first mangrove forest in the world to be brought under scientific management. The area was mapped first in Persian, by the Surveyor General as early as 1764 following soon after proprietary rights were obtained from the Mughal Emperor Alamgir II by the British East India Company in 1757. Systematic management of this forest tract started in the 1860s after the establishment of a Forest Department in the Province of Bengal, in British India. The management was entirely designed to extract whatever treasures were available, but labour and lower management mostly were staffed by locals, as the British had no expertise or adaptation experience in mangrove forests.
The first Forest Management Division to have jurisdiction over the Sundarbans was established in 1869. In 1875 a large portion of the mangrove forests was declared as reserved forests under the Forest Act, 1865 (Act VIII of 1865). The remaining portions of the forests were declared a reserve forest the following year and the forest, which was so far administered by the civil administration district, was placed under the control of the Forest Department. A Forest Division, which is the basic forest management and administration unit, was created in 1879 with the headquarters in Khulna, Bangladesh. The first management plan was written for the period 1893–98.
In 1911, it was described as a tract of waste country which had never been surveyed nor had the census been extended to it. It then stretched for about 266 kilometres (165 mi) from the mouth of the Hugli to the mouth of the Meghna river and was bordered inland by the three settled districts of the 24 Parganas, Khulna and Bakerganj. The total area (including water) was estimated at 16,900 square kilometres (6,526 sq mi). It was a water-logged jungle, in which tigers and other wild beasts abounded. Attempts at reclamation had not been very successful. The Sundarbans was everywhere intersected by river channels and creeks, some of which afforded water communication throughout the Bengal region both for steamers and for native ships.
The Sundarban forest lies in the vast delta on the Bay of Bengal formed by the super confluence of the Ganges, Padma, Brahmaputra and Meghna rivers across southern Bangladesh. The seasonally flooded Sundarbans freshwater swamp forests lie inland from the mangrove forests on the coastal fringe. The forest covers 10,000 square kilometres (3,900 sq mi) of which about 6,000 square kilometres (2,300 sq mi) are in Bangladesh. It became inscribed as a UNESCO world heritage site in 1997.
The Indian part of Sundarbans is estimated to be about 4,110 square kilometres (1,590 sq mi), of which about 1,700 square kilometres (660 sq mi) is occupied by waterbodies in the forms of river, canals and creeks of width varying from a few metres to several kilometres.
The Sundarbans is intersected by a complex network of tidal waterways, mudflats and small islands of salt-tolerant mangrove forests. The interconnected network of waterways makes almost every corner of the forest accessible by boat. The area is known for the (Panthera tigris tigris), as well as numerous fauna including species of birds, spotted deer, crocodiles and snakes. The fertile soils of the delta have been subject to intensive human use for centuries, and the ecoregion has been mostly converted to intensive agriculture, with few enclaves of forest remaining. The remaining forests, taken together with the Sundarbans mangroves, are important habitat for the endangered tiger. Additionally, the Sundarbans serves a crucial function as a protective barrier for the millions of inhabitants in and around Khulna and Mongla against the floods that result from the cyclones. The Sundarbans has also been enlisted among the finalists in the New7Wonders of Nature.
Major Flora :
There are 64 plant species in Sundarbans and they have the capacity to withstand estuarine conditions and saline inundation on account of tidal effects. The most common species are :
Hatal (Phoenix paludosa), Genwa (Excoecaria agallocha), Dhundul (Xylocarpus granatum), Kankra (Bruguirea gymnorrhiza), Champa(Bruguiera parviflora), Dhani ghas (Porteresia coarctata), Garjan (Rhizophora apiculata), Keora (Sonneratia apelata), Sundari tree (Heritiera fomes), Golpati(Nypa frutcans).
Main Species :
Excaecaria sp., Heritiera sp., Ceriops sp., Phoenix sp., Sonneratia sp., Avicennia sp., Rhizophora sp., Xylocarpus sp., Bruguiera sp. etc.
Major Fauna :
Tiger, fishing cat, chital, wildboar, water monitor, estuarine crocodile.
Endangered Species :
Tiger, Estuarian Crocodile, River Terrapin (Batagur baska), Olive Ridlay Turtle, Gangetic Dolphin, Ground Turtle, Hawks Bill Turtle, King Crabs (Horse shoe).