Mauritius, an Indian Ocean island nation best known for its beaches, lagoons and reefs, has declared a state of emergency. Why? It’s struggling to cope with an oil spill from a Japanese-owned ship which has run aground on coral reefs off the island’s coast. More than 1,000 tonnes of fuel has already spilled, and another 2,500 tonnes remains onboard. What’s so bad about it, and what can you do?
On July 25th, Japanese-owned MV (Merchant Vessel) Wakashio grounded on coral reefs in the southeast coast of Mauritius. Designed to transport unpackaged goods such as coal or grain, the ship had no cargo—but it carried 200 tonnes of diesel and 3,800 tonnes of heavy fuel oil. After sitting for a week, cracks began emerging. Unsurprisingly, fuel oil started spilling into the water… and it’s not pretty. Nearly two weeks after the shipwreck, the government finally declared a national emergency. (That was about a week ago.) And here we are: more than 1,000 tonnes of oil spilt later, polluting the coral reefs, beaches and lagoons.
It could get worse. Experts are saying that if the ship breaks in half—and the cracks are growing—the rest of the 2,500 tonnes of oil onboard could spill too. Which would be an even greater ecological and economic disaster. For now, Pravind Jugnauth, the prime minister of Mauritius, said that the situation is under control, but that they’re preparing for the worst. Locals, on the other hand, have criticised the government’s lack of response when the shipwreck first happened. Campaigners are also saying that the rescue operation is insufficient and a full-scale coordinated international response is necessary.
Not one of the people I spoke to had anything not negative to say about the authorities. pic.twitter.com/jDiBtK8Ql4
— Khalil A. Cassimally (@notscientific) August 8, 2020
As for the shipping firm? Akihiko Ono, the vice president, has apologised. But the damage, of course, is already done.
HOW BAD IS IT?
Oil spills are bad, period. We know this already. Despite the fact, oil spills have been increasing. The long-term environmental impacts of which are, predictably, horrible. We’re talking damaging animals’ organs and systems and triggering long-term ecological changes by damaging nesting or breeding grounds. And these are only two of those impacts. Remember BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil spill, on April 20th, 2010? The largest marine oil spill in history? That’s a decade ago. Today, scientists are still finding oil from that spill in the livers of fish, and on the deep ocean floor.
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🚨 When an oil spill occurs, we know that devastating environmental disasters follow. Unfortunately the recent Mauritius oil spill is no exception. Over the years there have been thousands of oil spills causing longterm ecological and humanitarian consequences, destroying biodiversity, increasing greenhouse gas emissions, and disproportionately impacting communities of colour and low-income groups. Solidarity with communities in Mauritius fighting to limit the devastation ❤️ Enough is enough. Let’s end the Age of Oil. #KeepItInTheGround
The Conversation highlights that spills like this harm marine life firstly because the oil is toxic, but also because these oils “persist longer and smother life in the sea and on the coasts. Ecological effects ripple across interconnected marine and land ecosystems.” In Mauritius, it seems that with the many complex variables, it’s hard to predict how bad the impacts will be. Or how fast the environment will recover. (In fact, how the clean-up is done affects the speed of recovery too!)
What we do know, however, is that Mauritius is home to a lot of biodiversity. We’re looking at mangroves, coral reefs, seagrass meadows, forests, nature reserves and more. Many species call the affected area home, and these species are ones of conservation importance. Happy Khambule, from Greenpeace Africa, said: “Thousands of species around the pristine lagoons of Blue Bay, Pointe d’Esny and Mahébourg are at risk of drowning in a sea of pollution, with dire consequences for Mauritius’s economy, food security and health.”
IT’S NOT JUST ABOUT THE BIODIVERSITY
Indeed, as Khambule alludes to, the lagoon is home to coastal communities. Local fishermen depend on the lagoon for their livelihoods, just as locals depend on the lagoon for food. So on top of environmental effects, we’re looking at job losses and food security, among other factors that branch out from the dependency the island has on the ocean. Speaking of which…
The beaches, sea and nature, of course, are important for the tourism industry in Mauritius. The island nation, unsurprisingly, heavily depends on the tourism industry. Which means small businesses, like guest houses, tour guides, eateries, and other tourist shops will suffer from this crisis. (And they’ve already suffered since the COVID-19 pandemic hit. This makes things worse.)
This crisis didn’t come as a surprise. “Mauritius is just on the ‘highway’ of international shipping,” says Peter Sand, chief shipping analyst at BIMCO, one of the world’s largest industry groups for shipowners. In fact, for years, “environmentalists have called attention to the danger posed by frequent ship traffic near ecologically fragile areas.” Mauritius is one of them.
As with every ecological disaster, the best thing you can do is to use your platforms, any platform you have, to spread the word. Raise awareness about Mauritius and share donation links. We’ve attached a helpful post to reshare below. But beyond this one incident, take the time to read up about ecology and biodiversity, why oil spills are so bad, and of course, continue to advocate for keeping oil in the ground. Because if we didn’t depend on fossil fuels to run the world, we wouldn’t be in this situation to begin with.
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🚨 WHAT IS HAPPENING IN MAURITIUS AND WHY DO WE NEED YOUR HELP? 🚨 ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ * July 25th, the bulk carrier WAKASHIO crashed into the East coast of Mauritius near Point D’Esny in the Indian Ocean. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ * Mauritius now faces it’s most serious ecological threats and has declared a “state of environmental emergency”. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ * Wakashio is a Japanese owned and Panamanian registered carrier. It was on it’s way to Brazil from China when it strayed from the proper shipping lane and its trajectory set it on a crash course into Mauritius. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ * The ship sat on top of the reef after the initial collision on July 25th for 12 days before it began to leak oil from one of its oil tanks. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ * The ship was carrying 4000 tons of fuel oil and 200 tons of diesel which had began to spew into the lagoon after the ship’s hull cracked. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ * The coral reef has been smashed and soaked in oil. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ * Thousands of species are at risk including dozens of endangered and rare plants and animals. Mauritius has incredible biodiversity and complex ecosystems that are now threatened from this spill. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ * Further, the 1.3 million people of Mauritius heavily depend on the tourism industry. Tourism in Mauritius has already experienced the catastrophic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and is further threatened by this spill. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ * Not only does this threaten the environment and tourism industry, but also poses risks to health, to jobs, to food security, among dozens of other factors that branch out from the dependency the island has on the ocean. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ * Mauritius does not have the resources to tackle this ecological crisis without help from abroad. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ * How can you help? Spread awareness. Donate… Our link is in our bio. Share the donation link. Get influential people/groups to listen and spread awareness as well. Let’s all work together to help Mauritius overcome this tragic event! ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ Credit: 1: unknown 2: @_living.the.simple.life_ 3-5: @willowrivertonkin 6-8: @chelseamealo @braybraywoowoo 9: @indie.marea 10: @reubsvision @thenationaluae #savemauritiusreef #mauritius #wakashio #oilspill #savethereef
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