Oil spill could devastate Mauritius’ coral reefs, say experts

“Mauritius is an island nation in the Indian Ocean off the south-east coast of the African continent that is known to have some of the world's finest coral reefs and marine life. The oil spill will not only affect marine life of Mauritius but could also impact neighbouring islands and their marine life including that of Maldives and Lakshadweep as the ocean systems are connected through currents,” Vardhan Patankar, marine biologist working with Wildlife Conservation Society-India, said in interview with Down to Earth magazine. 

The MV Wakashio, a Japanese-owned and Panama-registered ship that was travelling from China to Brazil ran aground a reef at Pointe d’Esny in the southeastern part of Mauritius on July 25, 2020. A crack in the ship’s hull caused it to leak in the past week. The ship was carrying 4,000 tonnes of fuel oil, of which more than 1,000 tonnes has already leaked into the ocean.

Now, the remaining 2,500 tonnes remaining on board the vessel threatens to leak as well as the ship is breaking apart.

Any kind of stress or pollution, like an oil spill, can expel the algae from a coral. When that happens, the coral gets bleached, which means it dies, he added. “This is what is going to happen in Mauritius. That will have impacts not only on the coral reef but also on thousands of marine animals associated with the reef. These include reef fish, crabs, invertebrates like shells, molluscs, crustaceans,” Patankar said.

“The coral reef provides its nooks and crevices for these animals to live. Because this entire structure can collapse if it gets bleached, the consequences can be far reaching,” he added.

“This ship was stuck on the reef for 13 days after running aground. Thirteen days is not a short time for authorities to react. But unfortunately it did not happen. That is because the oil industry has infiltrated big shipping,” he said.

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