“We can never clean up an oil spillage, we can just mitigate. The situation will never return as it used to be 25 days ago. We’ll never find the lagoon in the same state as we knew this lagoon,” environmental expert Sunil Dowarkasing tells The Animal Reader about the impact of the oil spill in Mauritian waters.
The ship MV Wakashio struck a coral reef on Mauritius’ southeast coast on July 25, and began leaking oil last week, raising fears of a major ecological crisis. An estimated 1000 tonnes of oil leaked into the ocean.
“We are starting to see dead fish. We are starting to see animals like crabs covered in oil. We are starting to see seabirds covered in oil, including some which could not be rescued,” said Vikash Tatayah, conservation director at Mauritius Wildlife Foundation.
The nearby Blue Bay Marine Park, known for its corals and many fish species, has so far escaped damage, but a lagoon containing an island nature reserve, the Ile Aux Aigrettes, is already covered in oil, he said.
The past days, Mauritians have been making floating booms out of sugar cane leaves and plastic bottles to prevent the oil spill from spreading.
Race against the clock
Prime Minister Pravind Jugnauth said the leak had stopped but that the ship still has 2,000 tonnes of oil in two other, undamaged tanks.
“The salvage team has observed several cracks in the ship hull, which means that we are facing a very serious situation,” Jugnauth said in a televised speech. “We should prepare for a worst-case scenario. It is clear that at some point, the ship will fall apart.”
The oil on the ship has to be removed immediately, Dowarkasing emphasizes: “I don’t want the oil to come and again leak inside the lagoon. We are pressuring the government that everything should be done to remove whatever oil exists on this ship.”
“Since yesterday, they’ve got a tanker which is very close. So they’re pumping (the oil) directly from one tank to the other”, he says. Dowarkasing doesn’t know how much oil has been removed from the ship since they started the operation, but he hopes they work around the clock to empty the tanks as fast as possible.
When asked when we will see the beautiful images from the beaches in Mauritius again, he says: “Let’s be very honest. It will never come back like that.” Probably on the surface, it might look the same, but “deep inside, the impact will be still there, on the coral, on the bottom of the lagoon”.