Accident in Mauritius threatens unique ecosystems and deprives local people of their income

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A major operation continues off the coast of Mauritius to prevent an environmental disaster and save unique ecosystems from destruction. A Japanese cargo ship that ran aground the Pointe d’Ani coral reef has already spilled about a thousand tons of fuel. Specialists are afraid that the emergency tanker will break in half and thousands more tons of oil products will enter seawater.

The Japanese ship MV Wakashio, carrying 3.8 thousand tons of fuel oil and 200 tons of diesel fuel, ran aground off the coast of Mauritius on July 25. A few days later, a leak of oil products was detected.

The country’s authorities, with the support of thousands of volunteers, launched a large-scale operation to eliminate the consequences of the accident. However, a few days later it became known about the emergence of new cracks in oil reservoirs. There was a threat of dumping thousands of tons of oil products into sea waters.

France has sent about 20 tons of technical equipment, including booms and pumps, to the disaster area. Specialists are pumping fuel out of the ship’s oil tanks to prevent it from being discharged into the water. UN experts have arrived in Mauritius to help, and will try to ‘minimize the impact of the oil spill on natural resources and the population’. A state of emergency has been declared in a country where tourism is one of the main economic sectors.

The oil spill occurred near two unique marine ecosystems protected by the state – the famous Blue Bay beach and marine park and the coral island of Ile aux Egretes (White Herons Island). Scientists have for many years collected rare and endangered plant and animal species on the White Herons Island of Mauritius and restored the unique ecosystem of coastal arid forest. Previously, such forests occupied most of the island’s coast.

Now scientists and volunteers are working to save unique species of flora and fauna – thousands of plants have been taken from the nursery, which is threatened by pollution, bats and birds have been moved to safe places. Oil from the tanker has also found its way to Bel Mar Lagoon – one of the most popular places for lovers of beach recreation and diving. Pure water, giant white sand beaches, coral reefs, where you can watch barracudas, stingrays, sharks and many other marine life, attracted thousands of tourists from around the world.

The lagoon’s unique ecosystem, which had been damaged by human activity over the past decades, has been recovering since 2001 when sand mining was banned – corals have started to grow again and many marine life has returned. “We could lose all this again because of the oil spill, and the marine ecosystem would suffer huge damage,” says Sunil Dovarkasing, former Member of Parliament and environmental consultant for Mauritius. Thousands of locals who are engaged in tourism and fishing are also very concerned about what happened. Their income has already fallen dramatically due to the pandemic and the end of international air traffic. Meanwhile, experts have confirmed that the crack in the hull of the ship, which has been exposed to the waves intensified by bad weather, continues to grow.