Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Mauritius Pollution Disaster

Urgent efforts to contain an oil spill off the coast of Mauritius are being ramped up due to fears that a cracked ship spilling fuel into the Indian Ocean—polluting nearby coral reefs, mangrove forests, and beaches of the island nation—could soon split in two, exacerbating the local environmental crisis. The Wakashio struck a reef at Pointe d'Esny, an ecological jewel fringed by idyllic beaches, colorful reefs, sanctuaries for rare and endemic wildlife, and unique RAMSAR-listed wetlands. Mauritius and its 1.3 million inhabitants depend crucially on its seas for food and for ecotourism, and has fostered a reputation as a conservation success story and a world-class destination for nature lovers. Ecologists fear if the ship further breaks it could inflict potentially catastrophic damage on the island nation's coastline, which forms the backbone of the economy.

"Thousands of species around the pristine 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," Happy Khambule, Greenpeace Africa senior Climate and Energy Campaign manager, said 

The vessel ran aground on a coral reef near Mauritius, work to safely remove the estimated 4,000 tonnes of oil it was carrying kicked off last week, when the ship starting seeping fuel into the ocean. Over 1,000 tonnes of oil is believed to have leaked into the surrounding waters.

Mauritius Prime Minister Pravind Jugnauth has declared an environmental emergency and called for international help. Jugnauth told reporters Sunday that emergency crews temporarily stemmed the leak but were still preparing for the worst. He also expressed concerned about the condition of the stranded ship. "The cracks have grown. The situation is even worse," he said. "The risk of the boat breaking in half still exists."

Mauritian Wildlife Foundation manager Jean Hugues Gardenne echoed that warning to the AP on Monday, saying that "we are expecting the worst."
"The ship is showing really big, big cracks. We believe it will break into two at any time, at the maximum within two days," Gardenne said. "So much oil remains in the ship, so the disaster could become much worse. It's important to remove as much oil as possible. Helicopters are taking out the fuel little by little, ton by ton."

Sunil Dowarkasing, a former Greenpeace strategist and environmental expert assisting in the clean-up effort, said, "We will never be able to recover from this damage. But what we can do is try to mitigate as much as we can,"

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