The catastrophe of Mauritius

On the 25th of July 2020, a Japanese bulk carrier, carrying an estimated 4000 tonnes of oil, has run on a coral reef of the coast of Mauritius island. After nearly a month of investigation and responses, it is time we give our say and analyze this threat, as always, together.

The island

Mauritius is a peninsular state in the Indian Ocean, off the east coast of Madagascar. It is an essential hotspot for biodiversity, as it is often the case for remote places that experienced a sort of isolated evolution: in distant lands, different species faced different struggles than their counterparts on the mainland, and so animals and plants surviving there present fascinating and unique traits.

Mauritius island is famous in the Bollywood industry, providing heavenly spots for movies of all kind. Such a remote and beautiful place relies heavily (if not completely) on tourism: breath-taking lagoons, mountains, rain forest are offered to millions that each year decide to step back from city life and enjoy a well-deserved break.

The position of the island makes it logistically useful to the commercial and touristic traffic in the Indian Ocean that, in certain periods of the year, becomes busy. On a normal day of a typical year, when everyone on the island was enjoying the quiet of what they call winter (which is approximately 20 ℃ on average) and the quiet from seasonal storms, occurring between January and March, the worst nightmare suddenly became real: an estimated 4000 tonnes of oil were released in the sea, as a result of a ship accident.

What happened

And from then on, as if a global pandemic was not enough already, a shitstorm has hit everyone involved, curses over curses, lectures over lectures.

This website aims to provide scientific news from an objective point of view: this is because we need to be loyal the main principle of science, which is that you can’t really have an opinion, everything has to be confirmed.

I live many thousands of miles away from Mauritius, and I don’t know anyone living or visiting at the moment, so I had to stay in the loop with the daily news emerging in newspapers and social media. FIltering anger and subjectiveness was not easy at all, but here is the most objective report of what happened and the possible consequences for the ecosystem.

25th  of July 2020: A Japanese bulk carrier ran over a coral reef and got stuck in the Blue Marin Park, a heritage site extremely important for marine life in the are, and started sinking.

A French team, in cooperation with local authorities and a Japanese team, was able to remove the remaining oil in the tank of the sinking ship. There were no casualties as a result of the accident and neither as a result of the extraction of the oil in the tank.

On the 13th of August 2020, the sinking ship broke in two, as expected. The government of the island declared that it will seek compensation from the owner of the ship and the insurer, positive signals are coming from the Japanese firm.

What will happen

It is now time to talk about the environment, which is the main affected part here. What does an oil spillage do to the marine ecosystem? Sadly, we do have the answer because it is not the first time that this happened.

Also, this episode seems to be more threatening to marine life because it happened near the coast on a coral reef, which is a perfect habitat for plankton and a great chunk of fish species (nearly 25% of them). Previous and famous spillage, as bad as this one, happened offshore, and so even though the amount of oil released in some cases was much higher, the net impact on life was lower, simply because there was less life.

If we also consider that, in this period of the year, it seems that currents are favourable for fishes to station in the marine park before embarking on a new voyage across the oceans, we soon realise what a big mess we made.

I say we as if I was part of the accident because I am, we all are. This is not only the result of a human mistake of the captain, this is the result of our society. By principle, we should not allow any ship of that dimension to sail less than 50 miles off the coasts of such fragile ecosystems. If we do, there is no reason to shout out loud once the worst happen. Ocean routes should be revisited, supply chains should reinforce commercial exchange with Madagascar that can be reached via speedboat, not with Australia or any other Asian country west of Mauritius.

I don’t want to make any claim about learning from this catastrophe: it is not the first one and it won’t be the last one, we are still at war for religious purposes after millennia so imagine if we are any closer to learn that we just need to learn to be empathic towards the Earth.

It has been a sad month, for all of us. Like always, I saw many posts, tweets, stories, crowdfunding: admirable, but they all vanished into my home feed, surpassed by the picture of your holidays, football news and some suggestions to buy something that 5 minutes before I didn’t know I wanted.

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