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How Divers Can Help Mauritius Oil Spill Clean-Up Efforts

By Melissa Smith | Authored On August 18, 2020
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How Divers Can Help Mauritius Oil Spill Clean-Up Efforts

MV Wakashio tear

Oil spilled from the MV Wakashio (pictured above) threatens Mauritius' biodiverse waters and tourism economy.

Courtesy Blue World Explorer Adventures

More than 1,000 tons of oil have spilled from the MV Wakashio since it ran aground on a coral reef off the southeastern coast of Mauritius on July 25, sparking an environmental emergency for the tourism-dependent island nation.

The ship ran aground near Pointe d'Esny, a 35-year-old marine park that is a sanctuary for many re-introduced endangered species and mangroves.

Salvage crews worked around the clock to pump 3,000 tons of oil off the vessel, but nearly 100 tons were left aboard when it split in two on August 15 due to a crack in the stern. Thousands of Mauritians are volunteering day and night to mitigate the disaster, deploying homemade booms, or oil barriers, crafted from netting stuffed with sugar cane leaves and buoyed by empty bottles.

CBS reports salvage teams are preparing to use tugboats to extricate the larger part of the ship, about two-thirds of the vessel, avoiding further damage to the park. The stern, which is believed to contain nearly 100 tons of fuel, remains stuck on the reef. Officials have not formed an extrication plan for the remainder of the ship.

Nagashiki Shipping, owner of the MV Wakashio, said in a statement it “feels deep responsibility” for the disaster and has pledged to deal with requests for compensation “in good faith.”

Sunil Kamar Nandeshwar, the ship’s captain, was arrested on August 18 for “endangering safe navigation,” reports the BBC.

Although the island declared an environmental emergency after the oil spill began, critics say Mauritius Prime Minister Pravind Jugnauth waited too long to start disaster prevention and clean-up efforts. The prime minister previously blamed poor weather for not immediately beginning efforts to remove oil from the ship.

International governments are aiding the clean-up effort.

Saturday, Japanese Environment Minister Shinjiro Koizumi said Japan planned to send in environmental officials and other experts to “swiftly assess what the ministry can do.”

France sent its minister for overseas territories, Sebastien Lecornu, to assess the situation. The French territory of Réunion Island sits 100 miles from Mauritius. Lecornu said on Twitter that Réunion, another unique dive destination, could very well see the effects of the spill.

“We remain vigilant about the fate of the wreck and the impact on our coasts,” Lecornu said, projecting the “formidable” clean-up will take at least 10 months to complete.

Additionally, a team from India’s coastguard has arrived to the island with cleanup supplies, and the United Nations is sending representatives.

Pointe d'Esny beach

Pointe d'Esny (pictured above) is an internationally recognized biodiversity hotspot threatened by the oil spill.

Courtesy Blue World Explorer Adventures

As of August 16, more than 800 tons of liquid waste and 400 tons of solid waste debris and sludge had been removed from the ocean. But a spill of this magnitude threatens to have long-lasting effects, endangering environmental restoration work started as early as 1985.

"We have planted about 200,000 indigenous trees to restore the coastal forest," Jean Hugue Gardenne of the Mauritian Wildlife Foundation told The Associated Press. "We re-introduced endangered birds, including the pink pigeon, the olive white-eye and the critically endangered Mauritius fody to the Isle aux Aigrettes. Now all this is threatened as the oil is seeping into the soil and the coral reefs."

How You Can Help

1. Use Your VoicePADI encourages torchbearers to share this information with divers, friends and families so that we can all put this environmental emergency at the forefront of our agendas.
2. Connect with PADI Dive Shops in Mauritius — Dive shops in Mauritius are working tirelessly to reduce the impacts of the oil spill and these shops welcome your support.
3. Donate — There are several local organizations and PADI dive shops accepting donations to find on-going relief efforts.
• Long-standing NGO Mauritius Wildlife Foundation is accepting donations on their website.
• Conservationist Oliver Ah-Choung has a Facebook Fundraising page on-behalf of local environmental NGO, Eco-Sud.