The Mauritius Oil Spill: An Environmental Catastrophe That Could Have Been Much Worse
The environmental disaster that Mauritius is facing is starting to appear as its pristine waters turn black, its fish wash up dead, and its sea birds are unable to take flight, as they are limp under the weight of the fuel covering them. For all the damage to the centuries-old coral that surrounds the tiny island nation in the Indian Ocean, scientists are realizing that the damage could have been much worse and there are broad lessons for the shipping industry, according to Al Jazeera.
As EcoWatch reported earlier this week, a French ship was working with Mauritian authorities and a team from Japan to remove the remaining fuel in the ship's tanks before it broke in two and spilled thousands of tons of fuel into the water. Fortunately, that operation was successful and all but a minimal amount of fuel has been removed from the sinking ship, according to the BBC. That means a spill that's more than twice as damaging has been avoided. Furthermore, nobody died in the accident. The worst has been avoided as Mauritius waits for the ship to break in two.
Al Jazeera noted that the ship also had no cargo so it was not a fully loaded tanker, which would have caused much more damage. This accident has spilled the equivalent of about 7,000 barrels of oil, a tiny fraction of the nearly 3.2 million barrels spilled by the Deepwater Horizon accident.
While that is a spot of good news, the environmental impact of what has been spilled is just coming into focus. The waters of Blue Bay Marine Park, a habitat for rare marine life and a wetlands designated as a site of international importance by an international convention on wetlands, have been devastated, according to Reuters.
"This oil spill occurred in one of, if not the most, sensitive areas in Mauritius," oceanographer and environmental engineer Vassen Kauppaymuthoo told Reuters by telephone from the island, where he was surveying the disaster. "We are talking of decades to recover from this damage, and some of it may never recover."
The Ursa Space Systems tweeted satellite imagery from a Finnish satellite that showed the extent of the oil slick earlier this week. "Our team estimates the size of the slick is nearly 10x larger than on Aug 6," the tweet reads.
Ursa's analysis using @iceyefi imagery reveals a rapid expansion of the oil slick leaking from bulk carrier MV Waka… https://t.co/oyEFWaPku6— Ursa Space Systems (@Ursa Space Systems)1597250160.0
"Thousands of species around the pristine lagoons are at risk of drowning in a sea of pollution, with dire consequences for Mauritius's economy, food security and health," said Happy Khambule, Greenpeace Africa's senior climate and energy campaign manager, as Al Jazeera reported.
Additionally, there are reports of people breathing oil vapor, according to the BBC.
Reuters noted that the area around Mauritius will feel a slow, insidious impact, as the corals and fish become the first to die off. That means the remaining corals will be increasingly vulnerable to marine heat waves, which are becoming more frequent and more extreme as the climate crisis unfolds.
"If things continue to go the way they are the future prospects for coral reefs look very, very bleak indeed," said Alex Rogers, a visiting professor at Oxford University, to Reuters. Blue Bay Marine Park is home to 38 unique species of coral.
The oil will also seep into the sediment around the roots of mangrove trees and could choke out mollusks, crabs and fish eggs, said Callum Roberts, a professor of marine conservation at the University of Exeter in Britain, who spoke to Reuters.
"It's very hard to remove once it's sunk into the sediment," Roberts said. "Trees can become sick and die."
Additionally, the sea grasses around the island will be at risk and the fate of the critically endangered Pink Pigeon is in jeopardy. The sea grasses play a vital role in protecting the coastline from waves, according to Reuters.
This spill is also a warning shot for the increasingly treacherous waters around the Arctic, which is seeing an increase in ice melt. That means the waters are becoming more navigable, but sea ice that has broken off from ice shelves threaten the increased tanker traffic, according to the Clean Arctic Alliance (CAA), as Al Jazeera reported.
"The spill in Mauritius demonstrates the limitations of response operations to cope with heavy fuel oil spills even in relatively favorable conditions," said Dave Walsh of the CAA to Al Jazeera.
"It underlines the need for the shipping industry to move away from powering vessels with fuels which pollute the air when they are burned and the ocean when there is an accident."
Ships carrying heavy fuel are already banned from Antarctica's waters, but no ban exists in the Arctic.
"What has happened in Mauritius is not an isolated incident, but part of a pattern of unacceptable behavior by an industry that routinely puts commercial considerations ahead of safety and the environment," said Walsh to Al Jazeera. "Put simply, the shipping industry must find a way towards an exit from the age of dirty fossil fuel-powered shipping."
- 10 Years After Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill, Threat of Disaster ... ›
- Oil Spill Disasters: How to Limit Environmental Damage - EcoWatch ›
- These Danish Companies Plan to Decarbonize Transportation ... ›
- Massive Oil Spill Turns Brazil's Beaches Black, Kills Marine Life ... ›
- Shipping Industry Could Replace Diesel Fuel With Ammonia to ... ›
- Japanese Tanker Off Mauritius Splits in Two - EcoWatch ›
- Mauritius Arrests Captain of Ship Behind Devastating Oil Spill - EcoWatch ›
- 17 Dead Dolphins Wash Ashore in Mauritius Near Oil Spill - EcoWatch ›
- Protesters March Against Oil Spill 'Incompetence' in Mauritius as More Dead Dolphins Wash Ashore - EcoWatch ›
- Thom Yorke of Radiohead Releases Song With Greenpeace to Help ... ›
- Patti Smith, Thom Yorke, Flea and More Featured on Just Released ... ›
- Musicians and Activists Unite at 'Pathway to Paris' - EcoWatch ›
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
A national park in Thailand has come up with an innovative way to make sure guests clean up their own trash: mail it back to them.
- Supermarkets in Thailand and Vietnam Swap Plastic Packaging for ... ›
- Malaysia Sends Plastic Waste Back to 13 Wealthy Countries, Says It ... ›
- Thailand Begins the New Year With Plastic Bag Ban - EcoWatch ›
- Coronavirus Worsens Thailand's Plastic Waste Crisis - EcoWatch ›
- Marium, Thailand's Beloved Baby Dugong, Is the Latest Victim of ... ›
By Ilana Cohen
Four years ago, Jacob Abel cast his first presidential vote for Donald Trump. As a young conservative from Concord, North Carolina, the choice felt natural.
But this November, he plans to cast a "protest vote" for a write-in candidate or abstain from casting a ballot for president. A determining factor in his 180-degree turn? Climate change.
Fractures Among Young Climate Conservatives<p>While young conservatives have united around the urgency of climate change, they remain divided over how to bring their concerns to the ballot box. Some embrace right-wing <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/biden-attacks-republican-convention/2020/08/24/434e5b46-e66d-11ea-970a-64c73a1c2392_story.html" target="_blank">attacks</a> painting Biden as a "tool of the left" and find his climate agenda "radical." Others can't find a way to justify voting for Trump, even if it means breaking with their party.</p><p>Patrick Mann from Orange County, California, voted for Trump in 2016. But today, he's leading Aggies for Joe at Texas A&M University and is co-founder of Texas Students for Biden. </p><p>Mann grew up watching wildfires ravage his home state, nearly forcing his family to evacuate in 2017. The GOP is failing to "meet the moment" for climate action, Mann said. He's hoping Biden will deliver on a promise to "<a href="https://www.desmoinesregister.com/story/opinion/columnists/caucus/2020/01/06/joe-biden-democrat-president-iowa-caucus-restore-soul-our-nation/2806422001/" target="_blank">restore the soul of our nation</a>." </p><p>Taylor Walker from Pensacola, Florida, is also determined to make her voice heard on climate, including by casting her first-ever vote for president—but not for Biden.</p>
A False Equivalency<p>Young climate conservatives may fear climate denial and delayed climate action, but more than that, they fear the growing political momentum around the Green New Deal, the massive spending it entails and <a href="https://joebiden.com/climate-plan/" target="_blank">Biden's citing of it</a> as a "crucial framing for meeting the climate challenges we face."</p><p>Many don't want to split with their party to support a Democrat whose <a href="https://www.npr.org/2019/09/03/757220130/joe-biden-on-bipartisanship-gun-control-and-regrets-over-inaction-after-a-traged" target="_blank">allegedly bipartisan intentions</a> they doubt. If stymieing what they consider a radical green agenda means re-electing a climate change denying president, so be it. </p><p>"I'm scared of climate change, but I'm also scared of the Green New Deal and what it means for America," said Ben Mutolo, a republicEN spokesperson and junior at SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry. </p><p>Mutolo felt encouraged by former Ohio Governor John Kasich's <a href="https://www.rollcall.com/2020/08/17/kasich-speech-to-democratic-convention-follows-years-of-building-conservative-credentials/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">appearance</a> at the Democratic National Convention, but he still struggles to see himself voting for Biden. Though the candidate paints himself as a <a href="https://www.latimes.com/politics/story/2020-08-12/harris-biden-different-generation-similar-political-instinct" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">centrist,</a> Mutolo believes he's "cozying up to the ultra-progressive left." </p><p>Mutolo, who wants to see market-based climate solutions like a carbon tax, feels torn between a candidate whose climate plan relies on taking an "<a href="https://joebiden.com/environmental-justice-plan/#" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">All-of-Government approach</a>," and one with no efforts to reign in global warming at all. <span></span></p><p>Leiserowitz said he appreciated how a conservative might feel Biden's climate plan "doesn't jive with their limited government, free-market approach."</p><p>But he sees a strong distinction between voting for a presidential candidate with a <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2020/07/14/us/politics/biden-climate-plan.html" target="_blank">$2 trillion climate plan</a> that includes large renewable energy investments, which have <a href="https://climatecommunication.yale.edu/publications/politics-global-warming-april-2020/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">bipartisan support</a>, and a candidate trying "to take the country in the opposite direction, towards more fossil fuels."</p>
- 7 Republicans Joined Senate Democrats in Vote to Fight Climate ... ›
- Climate Change Acknowledged by Increasing Number of ... ›
The World Health Organization (WHO) announced Monday that 64 high-income nations have joined an effort to distribute a COVID-19 vaccine fairly, prioritizing the most vulnerable citizens, as Science reported. The program is called the COVID-19 Vaccines Global Access Facility, or Covax, and it is a joint effort led by the WHO, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) and Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance.
- Trump Denies CDC Director's 2021 Timeline for Coronavirus Vaccine ›
- CDC Tells States to Prepare for a Vaccine Before November Election ›
- Fauci Warns Pre-Pandemic Normalcy Not Likely Until Late 2021 ... ›
By Gloria Oladipo
In the face of dangerous heat waves this summer, Americans have taken shelter in air conditioned cooling centers. Normally, that would be a wise choice, but during a pandemic, indoor shelters present new risks. The same air conditioning systems that keep us cool recirculate air around us, potentially spreading the coronavirus.