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Why would the Mauritius oil spill do long-term damage?

The Merchant Vessel Wakashio ship has been spilling oil in the coastal areas of south-east Mauritius and area near lagoons in the Indian Ocean for weeks. On August 7, the government declared the spill as a case of an environmental emergency.

The world has seen far bigger oil spills in the past, then why this shipwreck is horrendously appalling? Why do experts say that this leakage of fuel will cause long-lasting damage?

Merchant Vessel Wakashio

In the dusk of July 25, The Merchant Vessel Wakashio ship grounded on the island of Mauritius. The ship is a Japanese ship used for transportation of unpacked things.

The cargo was unloaded, but 200 tons of diesel and heavy fuels about 3,800 tons was still on the ship. The ship stood for a week before it starts spilling oil into the south-east Indian ocean.

According to a report on 11 August, about 1000 tons of oil have already leaked from the ship. The spilling has created a black slick on the turquoise water of the blue lagoon, seen through the satellite images.

Why is the spilling appalling?

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Even though not a huge amount of oil is leaked in the water, but the location of the spill is making the incident a major concern. The water body on which the oil is spilling is of vital importance from an environmental point of view.

The ship has been leaking since last Thursday, 5 August at Pointe d’Esny. The satellite images reveal that now, the oil leak is stretching from Pointe d’Esny to the islands of lle-aux-Aigrettes.

The major problem because of the leakage is, Mauritius being a biodiversity hotspot. Various types of flora and fauna are unique to the region. The water body near the island of Mauritius is home 1,700 species of marine animals; 800 species of fish, 17 species of mammals and 2 different varieties of turtles; United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity.

“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,” says Dr Corina Ciocan, University of Brighton. He says that the oil has soluble compounds that would dissolve with the ocean water. These compounds will settle down at the bed of the sea, and that would affect the entire ecosystem of the water body.

What is at stake, because of the spill

25% of the ocean ecosystem depends upon corals reef, often known as the rainforest of the ocean. The toxic hydrocarbons in the oil have already started contaminating the corals in the area.

The density of oil used for fueling the ship is less than that of the salty ocean water; therefore the oil can go down and settle in the residue. Hence impacting every part of the marine ecosystem.

22 hector mangroves in Pointe d’Esny, famous as Ramsar site is a wetland of global importance. The site is home to a variety of marine species, unique to the area. Apart from that it also facilitates the people on cost economically, as a major source of income.

The Blue Bay Marine Park resides 353 hectares of coral reefs formed with extraordinarily diverse 38 species of corals belonging to 15 different families, seagrass meadows, 72 species of fish.

Ile-aux-Aigrettes, situated very near the oil leaked water body is home to last remaining 11 costal ebony species. 12 coastal ebony species have already extinct from the area. Pink pigeon one of the scarce species of bird globally also shelters here; which was restored after tremendous conservation efforts by Mauritian Wildlife Foundation.

The water body of Mauritius which is now covered with tons of toxic hydrocarbon is the heart of tourist spots in the country. People living down the coastal area depend upon the ocean for their livelihood.

Helping hand for controlling the damage due to the oil spill.

Mauritius prime minister, Pravind Jugnauth said: “Our country doesn’t have the skills and expertise to refloat stranded ships, so I have appealed for help from France and president Emmanuel Macron.”

The nearest neighbour of the country France has come forward to help in this time of environmental crisis. France has sent a military aircraft with pollution control equipment. Since the ship is from a Japnese company, Japan have sent 6-member crew for assistance.

People in the coastal region have volunteered for help in the cleaning process along with the coast guards. In the time of the environmental emergency, the people are trying to make impoverished floating barriers for stopping the oil from entering the coastal areas.

Though the cases of oil spilling from ships have seen a steep fall in the past decades. Such incidents, the recent Beirut tragedy and this rise question on safety regulation on shipping, at government level.

The suggestion from a Forbes article says: “It is unclear how effective the regulators of the flagged nations were in ensuring the safety of the vessel, port, crew and locations through which the vessel travelled.” and the cases like this need a proper investigation.

The earth is already going through various horrendous incidents that are risks to life on earth, and such incidents are adding more to it. Experts say; from environmental to economical, spilling of oil from MV Wakashio will be impacting numbers of lives and its effects would be seen for years.