Why the Mauritius oil spill is so serious


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Green peace

The amount of oil spilled by the Japanese ship near the lagoons and coastal areas of south-eastern Mauritius is relatively small compared to the large oil spills the world has experienced in the past, but the damage it will cause will be huge. , experts say.

Unlike most previous ocean spills, this has happened near two environmentally protected marine ecosystems and the Blue Bay Marine Park Reserve, which is a wetland of international importance.

It is therefore the location rather than the size of the spill that is of most concern in terms of its potentially serious environmental impact.

The stunning turquoise waters of the Blue Lagoon outside the coastal village of Mahebourg in Mauritius, the backdrop to many Bollywood films, are now stained black and brown.

The ship, MV Wakashio, ran aground at Esny Point at the end of July and oil began to leak from it last Thursday. Satellite images show the oil spill stretching between the mainland at Pointe d’Esny and the island of Ile-aux-Aigrettes.

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It is believed that over 1000 tonnes of fuel leaked out of the vessel and into the lagoon. A huge clean-up was launched from the shore with many local people volunteering to help.

On August 7, nearly two weeks after the sinking, the government of Mauritius declared the incident a national emergency.

Biodiversity hot spot

Mauritius is a hotbed of biodiversity with a high concentration of plants and animals unique to the region.

“Wind and water currents don’t help, they carry oil to areas that have vital marine ecosystems,” said Sunil Mokshananda, a former Greenpeace strategist, who is on an island near the site of the oil spill, on the BBC.

The Mauritian marine environment is home to 1,700 species including around 800 types of fish, 17 species of marine mammals and two species of turtles, according to the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity.

Coral reefs, seagrass beds and mangroves make Mauritian waters extraordinarily rich in biodiversity.

“There are very few such marine areas with such rich biodiversity left on the planet. An oil spill like this will impact almost everything there, ”said Dr Corina Ciocan, senior lecturer in marine biology at the University of Brighton in the UK.

“It’s not just the slight slick of oil you see on the surface of the water caused by the spill.

“There will also be some soluble compounds in the oil that will dissolve in the water, a foam-like layer below the water’s surface, and then some really heavy residue on the bed – so the whole ecosystem sailor will be affected. “

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Some of the coral reefs have already been contaminated by the oil spill

The vessel, MV Wakashio, is said to have carried around 4,000 tonnes of fuel, of which nearly 1,200 tonnes have already been spilled, according to operator Mitsui OSK Lines.

Despite the bad weather, Prime Minister Pravind Jugnauth said all of the oil has now been drained from the ship’s fuel tanks, although a small amount remains on board elsewhere. There were concerns that the ship might shatter, spilling more oil into the sea.

The fuel was transferred ashore by helicopter and to another vessel owned by the same Japanese company, Nagashiki Shipping.

It is unclear why the ship came so close to the lagoon and is under investigation by police.

At a press conference, Akihiko Ono, executive vice president of Mitsui OSK Lines, apologized “profusely” for the spill and for “the serious problems we have caused”.

Coral bleaching

One of the main concerns is the lagoon’s coral reefs – sometimes referred to as the rainforests of the sea – due to the diversity of life found there.

About 25% of fish in the ocean depend on healthy coral reefs, according to the United States National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

They protect the coasts from storms and erosion. Coral reefs and marine ecosystems are the main pillars of Mauritius tourism which is a big part of the country’s economy.

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Sunil mokshanand


Local communities helped clean up the oil spill

“The toxic hydrocarbons released by the spilled oil will bleach coral reefs and eventually they will die,” said Professor Richard Steiner, international oil spill advisor and marine biologist in Alaska, United States.

Last year, Professor Steiner assisted the government of the Solomon Islands when a ship spilled oil on the coral reef off its coast:

“Although the oil spill was not significant – just a few hundred tonnes of oil – the damage to the coral reefs there was massive. “

Impact of past oil spills

Although previous oil spills around the world were not considered environmentally sensitive areas, they still significantly affected marine animals and plants.

In 2010, the Deep Water Horizon incident off the Gulf of Mexico resulted in nearly 400,000 tonnes of oil spills, killing thousands of species ranging from plankton to dolphins.

There were other long-term impacts on marine life as well, including impaired reproduction, reduced growth, injury, and disease.

“Researchers found skin lesions on the northern Gulf red snapper in the months following the spill, but the lesions became less frequent and severe in 2012,” wrote Dr. Steven Murawski, marine ecologist at the University of South Florida, and Sherry Gilbert, assistant director of the university’s C-IMAGE Consortium in The Conversation.

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Sunil mokshanand


Mangroves, vital for marine ecosystems, are also contaminated by the oil spill

“There is further evidence of continuing and increasing exposures to hydrocarbons over time in economically and ecologically important species such as the golden Caribbean fish, grouper and hake.

In 1978, a large crude oil transporter ran aground off Brittany, France, which dumped nearly 70 million gallons of oil into the sea.

About 200 miles of the French coast were polluted by the oil spill and it killed millions of invertebrates, such as molluscs and crustaceans. The spill also killed around 20,000 birds and contaminated oyster beds in the region.

Experts say that despite best efforts, less than 10% of oil spilled in incidents like these are successfully cleaned up.

France sent a military plane with anti-pollution equipment from its neighboring island of Reunion to help with the Mauritian oil spill, while Japan sent a six-member team to aid the French efforts. The Mauritian coast guard and several police units are also on site in the south-east of the island.

“The Mauritian government should do the environmental impact assessment as soon as it can,” said Prof Steiner.

“The impact is likely to last for years.


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