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Disaster in Paradise

Coen Van Wyk

Posted on August 7, 2020 06:14

2 users

The paradise island of Mauritius, already suffering the effect of the pandemic on tourism, now faces a major oil spill. A bulk carrier, aground on the windward side of the island is spewing oil onto the reefs and beaches. The local community mobilizes to save their paradise.

The coastguard warned the captain that he was steering too close to the shore. And a few hours later the news spread: a bulk carrier, MV Wakashio, was aground to windward of the well-loved Blue Bay, famous for its snorkeling and diving, its unique coral formations, as well as the good seafood its fishermen put on the table.

Mauritius, with just over one million inhabitants, was severely impacted by the coronavirus. The well-oiled medical system limited infections to single numbers, but the economy is heavily dependent on tourism. All this has come to a dead stop, and where first choice of fish used to go to hotels and restaurants, fishermen now come offering special deals.

Black death. Photo with permission by Lana Vitry, www.bluewaterdivers

And then the ship went aground. A week of agony while government agencies tried to get the ship afloat, and to pump the bunker oil, up to 4,000 tons, out, but heavy seas and strong winds frustrated all attempts. And then the news — the hull had cracked. Oil started floating downwind, soon covering the reefs and pristine beaches with heavy, glutinous oil.

The community rallied: NGO’s and diving centers mobilized volunteers to the waterfront of nearby Mahebourg to create barriers from sugar cane straw in netting.

Local companies and sugar estates donated workers’ time, equipment and material. Volunteers pumped 2.8 tonnes of oil from the lagoons.

Recriminations are, as expected, flying. Local fishermen plead with government to help them. But once again the spirit of this beautiful island shines through. People from all walks of life are united to mitigate the damage, clear up the mess, and to begin to rehabilitate the reefs and sea life. 

Volunteers making booms to stop the oil. Photo with permission by Lana Vitry, www.bluewaterdivers

Without major help this is going to take years to repair. Local diving legend, Hugues Vitry, depressed and angry, called this a huge catastrophe that the island really did not need now. He and his colleagues are ready to evaluate the damage and begin planning repairs.

What the people, a human tide against the black tide of oil, now need is encouragement. In future they will need tourists, as soon as it is possible, to come and enjoy the beauty of the island, and to contribute to the rebuilding of their economy. 

Coen Van Wyk

Posted on August 7, 2020 06:14

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Source: Al Jazeera
1

Government says bulk carrier ran aground in the southeast of the island, sparking fears of an environmental disaster.

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