As fear fills hospital alleys, horror rains in Beirut, poverty kisses our streets, and uncertainty takes form, it is worthy to also note that the heart of nature is bleeding.
What is happening?
On the 25th of July, the Japanese-owned MV Wakashio (Merchant Vessel) grounded on coral reefs on the coast of Mauritius, South east of the Indian Ocean. The cargo ship had an estimated 200 tons of diesel and 3,800 tons of heavy fuel oil onboard, all headed to Brazil. After sitting on the reef for a week awaiting salvage workers and battered by rough waves, cracks began to emerge in its hull.
As of now, more than 3000 tons of oil has been spilled into the pristine waters and the ship has broken apart into two distinct parts. Striking satellite images show the resulting oil spill weaving a black slick between the mainland at Pointe D’Esny and the flat round island of Ile-aux-Aigrettes. The impacts seen closer up are horrendous.
Insert CNN Video – Here (Link – https://www.cnn.com/videos/world/2020/08/12/mauritius-oil-spill-japanese-tanker-enjoji-lkl-intl-hnk-vpx.cnn/)
But an even bigger catastrophe looms.
The crack inside the ship’s hull has been growing, and government officials warn the entire ship could split in half, releasing all the oil remaining inside the vessel.
What is being done?
Efforts have been underway to pump that oil out of the ship before it broke apart. As of Tuesday, just over 1,000 metric tons of oil had been pumped out of the ship, while some 1,800 metric tons of fuel oil and diesel remained on board, according to the company that owns the ship. “The situation is very tight. The pumping is continuing non-stop,” said Sunil Dowarkasing, an environmental consultant and former member of parliament who was at the scene. “If all the oil can be successfully removed from the ship that would prevent any increase in the destruction, which is already an environmental disaster.”
The Mauritius’ government on the 7th of August declared a state of environmental emergency, and the French government has sent aircrafts and technical support to assist with the disaster response.
In response to the spill, the International Charter Space and Major Disasters was activated on 8 August. The charter is an international collaboration that gives rescue and aid workers rapid access to satellite data in the event of a disaster. A full report that provides a preliminary assessment of the oil spill, using imagery from the Copernicus Sentinel-2 mission, is available here.
In addition, independently-organized local volunteers have been working to clean up and protect beaches with improvised materials, even though the government has told them to stop and leave any efforts to officials. This has generated a negative sentiment about the government especially in view of their slow response and lackadaisical attitude.
Reuters reports that sugar cane leaves, plastic bottles and human hair (cut off and donated by residents) are being sewn into makeshift booms. “People have realized that they need to take things into their hands. We are here to protect our fauna and flora,” environmental activist Ashok Subron said, according to AFP. Subron told a local news outlet the collective action by everyday citizens demonstrated “the failure of the state,” and other residents are angrily asking why action wasn’t taken sooner to prevent this unfolding disaster.
Tweets could be embeddedhttps://twitter.com/Ariel_Saramandi/status/1292120238847340544
Huge police presence on the affected beaches today. Blocking access to beaches. I didn’t see a police officer helping volunteers.
Speaking of volunteers, loads of them. But it’s now unlawful to volunteer.
You read that right.#Wakashiohttps://t.co/a8Ce5ceEaP— Khalil A. Cassimally (@notscientific) August 8, 2020
These kinds of spills are harmful to aquatic life because the constituents of the oil are poisonous and toxic. They cost a lot to remove, persist longer on the water body and harm marine life. As of this moment, we cannot predict how severe the impacts will be, but the complexity of the ecosystem, what mix of oil has been spilled, and how clean up is attempted, will say a lot about the aftermath of this injustice.
The 22 hectares of mangrove that make up the Pointe D’Esny Wetlands (roughly the area of 22 soccer pitches) are designated as a Ramsar site, a protected area for internationally important wetlands. Just along the coastal road to the south is Blue Bay Marine Park, another Ramsar site, with 353 hectares of coral reefs, seagrass meadows, and more mangroves. It is home to turtles, 72 species of fish, and an exceptional coral diversity of 38 species from 15 families.
Ile-aux-Aigrettes, opposite Pointe D’Esny, has the last remaining coastal ebony forest in Mauritius. The coastal ebony species is one of 11 remaining endemic ebony species of Mauritius, a twelfth is believed extinct. This 27-hectare island nature reserve is named for the egrets, various long-legged and typically white-feathered species of the heron family that fish these coasts.
The locals who are mostly fishermen, depend on the now oil-polluted lagoon for their livelihoods, and local businesses depend on it for survival. Many guest houses, tour guides, eateries and tourist shops are geared towards holidaymakers attracted by the beautiful sea, beaches and nature that Mauritians enjoy every day.
The coronavirus pandemic has already seen tourism (which contributes more than 25% to the GDP) fall since March, and Satellite data shows that the oil spill could possibly affect most of the east coast of Mauritius which includes a large share of luxury coastal hotels and tourist centres. Even without the environmental degradation, it was already a slow recovery, but now we can only count on your support to help #SaveMauritiusWaters.
Crowdfunding page: https://t.co/s86ggI6MKh?amp=1