Explained: Oil Spillover Mauritius and the environmental impact

On July 25, a Japanese-owned oil ship MV Wakashio, sailing from China to Brazil, hit a coral reef near the southeast coast of Mauritius. Since then, the oil which contains more than 4000 tonnes of fuel, lubricant, and diesel, is leaking into the ocean. The island nation declared an environmental emergency after satellite images emerged showing the oil leakage around the environmentally sensitive zone, Pointe d’Esny. “We are in a situation of an environmental crisis,” said Kavy Ramano, Minister of the Environment of Mauritius, acknowledging Oil spillover Mauritius and the environmental impact.

The environmental impact of the spillover in the surrounding area may become catastrophic if the leakage is not contained at the earliest. Mauritius National Coast Guard, Polyeco Group, an environmental services company, and the French island of Reunion are currently trying to stop the flow of oil. 

Oil spill over and the environmental impact

Oil leakage into the ocean is considered as one of the most terrible environmental disasters. The oil spill damages the ecology of the surrounding water by killing the animals and fishes or by affecting the thermo-regulation, respiratory system of the organisms. 

Chemical disbalance is another prominent hazard of oil leakage. The oil leaked from vessels happens to be chemically toxic to the environment and thus affects the entire ecology.

Oil Slick and impact on habitat

Oil is insoluble in water due to its chemical composition. It floats over the water surface and forms a layer which is called “Slick”. This layer expands and spreads to cover a large area. The slick blocks the distribution of solar radiation and thus negatively impacts the underlying habitat and mammals. The lack of sunlight below the sea surface affects the growth of plants and planktons which ultimately leads to disruption in the food chain. The food chain disruption may kill the habitat.

Impact on marine life

The surrounding marine life of a spillover place is the first one to get contaminated due to the toxic chemicals released on the sea surface. For example, a fish may swim across the spillover site and ingest the toxic substance. The intake of chemically toxic substances may either kill marine life or may affect their ability to reproduce. 

Oil sticks with everything. The mammals or even the birds coming in contact with the oil gets affected. Their ability to swim or fly gets contained with sticky feathers. 

Spillover site Pointe d’Esny – Protected under Ramsar Convention

The third Ramsar Site of International Heritage Importance, Pointe d’Esny is one of the largest wetlands in Mauritius, situated in the South-Eastern village of Mahebourg. The Pointe d’Esny supports rich mangroves, coral reefs, coastal fishes, critically endangered Zornia vaughaniana plant, shorebirds and many other marine lives.

The spillover has clogged the coastline and threatened the ecologically sensitive areas. The government has requested fishers, boat operators to not venture on the beach and in the lagoons of Blue Bay, Pointe d’Esny and Mahebourg.

Access to the Blue Bay Marine Park, and the Mahebourg fishing reserve have been restricted in an attempt to contain the negative consequences of leakage.

Recent events of oil spillover

On June 2, Russia declared a State of emergency in Norilsk after 20,000 tons of diesel leaked into the Arctic river system. The leak happened from the thermoelectric power plant at Norilsk which is built on permafrost. The fuel tank sank due to a weak base and the diesel oil was released into the Ambarnaya river, which drifted for miles, contaminating the river ecology.