The amount of oil spilled from a Japanese-owned ship near the lagoons and coastal southeastern Mauritius is relatively low compared to the major oil spills the world has seen in the past, but the damage it causes will be great. and long term, experts say.
Unlike most past offshore spills, this incident took place near two protected marine ecosystems and the Blue Bay Marine Park reserve, a wetland of national importance. practice.
So the location, not the size, of the spill is causing the greatest concern for its potentially serious environmental impact.
The stunning turquoise waters of a green lagoon outside the coastal village of Mahébourg in Mauritius, the setting for many Bollywood films, are now black and brown.
The ship, MV Wakashio, ran aground at Pointe d̵7;Esny in late July, and oil started to leak from it last Thursday. Satellite images show a stretch of oil spill between the mainland at Pointe D’Esny and the island of Ile-aux-Aigrettes.
It is thought that more than 1,000 tons of fuel was leaked out of the ship and into the lagoon. A giant clean-up campaign was launched from the shore, with many locals volunteering to help.
On 7 August, almost two weeks after the shipwreck, the Mauriti government declared the incident a state of national emergency.
Mauritius is a biodiversity hotspot with a high concentration of unique flora and fauna.
Sunil Mokshananda, former strategist for the Green Peace Organization, who is on an island near the spill site, told the BBC: “Wind and water currents are not helping, they are sending oil to areas where the oil spill is located. important marine ecosystems.
The Mauritian marine environment is home to 1,700 species including about 800 types of fish, 17 types of marine mammals and two species of turtles, according to the United Nations Convention on Biodiversity.
The coral reefs, seagrasses and mangroves make the Mauritian waters an extraordinary diversity.
“There are very few marine areas with such rich biodiversity left on the planet,” said Dr Corina Ciocan, senior lecturer in marine biology at the UK University of Brighton. This will affect almost everything there. ”
“It’s not just the slight oil slick you see on the water’s surface due to the spill.
“There will also be oil-soluble compounds that will dissolve in water, a mousse-like layer below the water’s surface, and then very heavy residue on the bottom – so the entire marine ecosystem will suffer.” affect.”
According to the operator Mitsui OSK Lines, the MV Wakashio is believed to have carried about 4,000 tons of fuel, of which nearly 1,200 tons was spilled.
Despite the bad weather, Prime Minister Pravind Jugnauth said all oil has now been removed from the vessel’s fuel tanks, although small amounts remain on board elsewhere. There were concerns that the ship could break and spill more oil into the sea.
The fuel was transported ashore by helicopter and another ship owned by the same Japanese company, Nagashiki Shipping.
It is not clear why the ship approached the lagoon and is under investigation by police.
At a press conference, Akihiko Ono, executive vice president of Mitsui OSK Lines “deeply apologized” for the oil spill and for “the big trouble we have caused”.
One of the main concerns is the coral reefs in lagoons – which are sometimes referred to as the tropical forests of the sea – because of the diversity of life found in them.
According to the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, about 25% of fish in the oceans depend on healthy coral reefs.
They protect the coast from storms and erosion. Coral reefs and marine ecosystems are the main pillars of Mauritian tourism, playing an important role in the country’s economy.
“Toxic hydrocarbons released from oil spills will bleach coral reefs and eventually die,” said Professor Richard Steiner, international oil spill adviser and marine biologist in Alaska, USA. said.
Last year, Professor Steiner aided the Solomon Islands government when a ship spilled oil on a reef off its coast:
“Although the oil spill is not large – just a few hundred tons – the damage to the coral reefs there is enormous.”
The impact of the oil spill in the past
Although the previous oil spills around the world were not in environmentally sensitive areas, they still significantly affected marine animals and plants.
In 2010, the Deep Water Horizon incident off the Gulf of Mexico saw nearly 400,000 tons of oil spills, resulting in the deaths of thousands of species from plankton to dolphins.
There are also other long-term effects on marine life including impaired fertility, decreased growth rates, injury, and disease.
Dr. Steven Murawski, marine ecologist at the University of South Florida, and Sherry Gilbert, assistant said: “Researchers found skin lesions on snapper from the Northern Gulf in the months following the spill. oil, but these injuries become less frequent and severe. director of the university’s C-IMAGE Association in The Conversation magazine.
“There is other evidence of continued and increasing exposure to hydrocarbons over time in economically and environmentally important species such as yellow tile fish, grouper and heke.”
In 1978, a large crude tanker ran aground off Brittany, France, leaking almost 70 million gallons of oil into the ocean.
About 200 miles of the French coast have been polluted by oil spills, and it has killed millions of invertebrates, such as mollusks and crustaceans. The oil spill also killed around 20,000 birds and polluted the area’s oyster beds.
Despite our best efforts, experts say, overall less than 10% of the oil spills in incidents like these have been successfully cleaned.
France dispatched a military plane with pollution control equipment from the nearby island of Réunion to help fix the oil spill in Mauritian, while Japan dispatched a team of six to support its efforts. France. The Mauritius coast guard and several police units are also present at the site on the southeastern side of the island.
“The Mauritian government should carry out an environmental impact assessment as soon as possible,” said Professor Steiner.
“The impact is likely to remain for many years.”