Biodiverse sensitive areas at risk in Mauritius following oil spill

Photo credit: Reuters.

By Anders Lorenzen

The island nation Mauritius is in a state of environmental emergency after a Japanese bulk carrier, on the 25th of July, struck a coral reef off the coast spilling 1,000 tonnes of fuel.

In total the Japanese ship was carrying 3,800 tonnes worth of fuel oil as well as diesel to power its own engines. As the ship ran aground one of the tanks ruptured causing the 1,000 tonnes to leak. The ship has subsequently broken in half.

According to scientists, the oil spill is the country’s worst ecological disaster, has damaged the pristine waters and killed wildlife. Additionally, it will badly affect the tourism industry on which the prosperity of the island, located in the Indian Ocean, is heavily reliant. 

Greenpeace Africa said thousands of species around the lagoons of Blue Bay, Pointe d’Esny and Mahebourg are at risk of drowning in a sea of pollution, with dire consequences for Mauritius’ economy, food security and health.  “Greenpeace Africa stands with affected Mauritian coastal communities and calls on the UN and all governments to support Mauritius’ cleaning efforts,” Greenpeace Africa Senior Climate and Energy Campaign Manager, Harry Khambule, said.  

Rich biodiversity

While the oil spill is relatively small compared to other oil spills, it is feared it could be particularly devastating due to its sensitive and biodiverse environment. Mauritius is a biodiversity hotspot, where the marine environment is home to 1,700 species including around 800 types of fish, 17 kinds of marine mammals, and two species of turtles. Together with the coral reefs, seagrasses and mangroves Mauritian waters are extraordinarily rich in biodiversity.

There is increased concern that the oil spill could set off bleaching events in the coral reefs already stressed from a warmer ocean caused by climate change and if so, such a bleaching event could kill off the coral reefs.

Unanswered questions

Questions are being asked as to why the ship ventured so close to the reef – the owners have said they’re investigating the cause of the accident. 

Subsequently, the Mauritius Prime Minister Pravind Jugnauth said that nearly all the remaining oil had been removed from the ship.

Environmentalists would argue that incidents like this should stress the need to speed up the transition away from fossil fuels.

What happens next?

Next, the wreckage of the ship will need to be completely removed, which will be a delicate operation and could take months. 

Both Japan and France have offered assistance with the clean-up operations.

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