In the Indian Ocean, the oil spill that hit Mauritius threatens biodiversity and in particular two wetlands: the Blue Bay Marine Park and the site of Pointe d’Esny, internationally recognized. They are teeming with corals, fish, sea birds and also include mangroves.
The word “disaster” is not too much. As Mauritians fight head to head against the oil spill, the oil spill off the coast of the island in the Indian Ocean threatens vast protected wetlands. These are mainly two of Mauritius’s three Ramsar sites (a convention that identifies wetlands of international importance): the Blue Bay Marine Park and the Pointe d’Esny site. As Vincent Florens, associate professor of ecology in the Department of Biosciences and Ocean Studies at the University of Mauritius, explains to France Inter, these two areas are teeming with mangroves, corals and fish.
In total, nearly 1,000 tonnes of fuel were spilled at sea from a crack in the hull of the bulk carrier MV Wakashio, which ran aground on a reef on July 25. Mauritian Prime Minister Pravind Jugnauth announced on Wednesday that the 2,800 tonnes of fuel oil that remained in the tanks had been fully pumped out, which definitively rules out the prospect of another leak.
Threatened species and ecosystem
Small quantities of fuel oil have already been observed in the Blue Bay Marine Park, a 353 hectare site which is home to around forty varieties of coral, in particular the spherical “brain coral” which is over one hundred years old. Mangroves, seagrass beds and giant algae “contribute to the general balance of the marine environment” and provide habitat “for around 72 species of fish and the endangered green turtle,” the Ramsar convention says on its website.
The brackish and shallow waters of the 22 hectares of the Pointe d’Esny site host a mangrove forest, mudflats, endangered plants and butterflies endemic to Mauritius.
“Other oil spills have shown this: they have a harmful impact on marine biodiversity, by killing animals, inserting themselves into the food chain and having a lasting impact on the ecosystem”, regrets Vincent Florens. “There is, in the short term, a danger to seabirds whose oil damages their feathers and their insulating capacity, for example. In mangroves, it is very difficult to clean off fuel oil residues, because of the entanglement of roots. ” The consequences are all the more serious when they serve as breeding grounds.
As for the exposed coral reefs, “there is immediate and obvious physical damage” caused by the ship aground in the middle of the sensitive area and by the oil spill which suffocates the organisms, explains Jacek Tronczynski, researcher at the biogeochemistry unit and ecotoxicology at the French Research Institute for the Exploitation of the Sea (Ifremer). But long-term damage is also to be feared, with “chronic contamination of corals”. It is also impossible to clean them directly: “All mechanical operations can introduce loss of organisms. Rather, it is the clean-ups of areas where the oil build-up has taken place that minimizes this chronic exposure. ”
Is the state of Mauritius doing enough for the environment?
The Mauritian biodiversity specialist also indicates that the island has already lost a lot of endemic species in recent decades, especially in seabirds. “And the numbers of those that still exist are very low.” In addition, adds Vincent Florens, “we have situations of overfishing in the lagoons, agricultural pesticides, fertilizers, plus the effects of climate change and coral bleaching. With one more oil spill, this is all a lot and we’re going to come to a point where the ecosystem is going to collapse. ”
This oil spill also reveals the little interest given to the environment in Mauritius, according to Vincent Florens. He believes that the negligence is “numerous” and at “many levels”. “Right now, it’s appalling but it’s part of a much larger whole.” He recalls that two other less serious strandings took place in 2011 and 2016. “We should have been much more efficient and responsive this time around.”
The Japanese company “aware of its responsibility”
On Thursday, Japanese company Nagashiki Shipping, owner of the oil spill, said Thursday it is particularly aware of its responsibility and intends to take steps towards an assessment compensation.
Nagashiki Shipping announced Thursday that it intends to deploy additional filter barriers, assuring that it intends to do its utmost to protect the environment and prevent the oil spill from spreading even further, in coordination with the Mauritian and Japanese authorities. The group has indicated that it intends to respond sincerely to claims for compensation, based on existing legislation.