18 dolphins were found dead along the in Mauritian coastline after an oil spill by a Japanese cargo ship got caught in the island’s coral reef and split in two. Mauritius is a tiny island nation located in the Indian Ocean, renowned for its natural beauty and nicknamed the ‘island of heaven’. The offending cargo ship was called the MV Wakashio and it round aground after it approached land in the hopes of catching some wireless Internet signals. Instead, the reef sliced into the ship and left the crew and the floating cargo ship stranded. The accident occurred near the Blue Bay National Marine Park, an important biodiversity hotspot. It is estimated that 1,000 tons of crude oil leaked into the ocean, polluting the coastline. Mauritius was faced with a national disaster and quickly went from a ‘dream paradise’ to ‘oil drenched hell’.
|▲ Oil spilt Mauritius coast. (Photo from NEWSIS)|
Dolphins as well as coral reefs were killed in the accident. Black oil was found in the mouths of the dead dolphins, while others reportedly died after struggling on the beach. The Mauritius Marine Conservation Association and environmental activists said the dolphins died as a direct result of the oil spill and the release of other toxic substances that were in the stranded hull and said until this mess is cleaned up, more will remain at risk. The death of the dolphins is only the beginning. There are concerns that the oil spill will affect a wide variety of marine life, including whales, turtles and seabirds. However, this incident does not simply end with destruction of nature. Residents whose main occupation was fishing also suffered enormous economic damage. Mauritius, which is also famous for its underwater waterfall, was known as a world-class tourist destination due to its unique natural scenery, but this accident has forced the tourism industry to shut down. Environmental organizations expect that the restoration of the coastline alone will take 50 years.
Unique methods have begun to emerge to save the damaged coastline. With the declaration of an environmental emergency, many Mauritians, including environmentalists and students, volunteered to help by donating their hair. The reason why hair is used to treat oil spills is because it is known to be effective in drawing oil out from water. Hair absorbs oil in the air naturally. This is because the surface of hair absorbs pollutants. It acts like a sponge absorbing the spilled oil. The collected hair is made into a long adsorption mat, similar to putting hair in stockings and laid along the affected areas to assist in the clean-up. Many people who took part it he human hair collection drive cut their own hair and donated it to the cause. Hairdressers from all over Mauritius offered free haircut services to those willing to donate to the cause. Hair donations were also encouraged online. One company held a campaign offering up gift certificates to those who donated their hair, and several Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) groups promised to collect and donate hair from their support base. Human hair is not the only solution being used. Oil removal tools range from sugar cane leaves, rice straws, animal hair, and absorbent paper, but human hair is known to be the most effective of the group. Despite the efforts by residents to help in the clean-up, the oil removal process will not be easy.
|▲ People who save the Mauritius coast with hair. (Photo from edaily)|
Immediately after the accident, the Japanese government dispatched six government aid units to help in the environmental restoration efforts. The ship’s operators have also pledged $9.4 million in support of clean-up efforts, a huge difference from the $34 million the government of Mauritius was seeking. When Korea’s Tae-an oil spill happened in 2007, more than 1.23 million citizens from all over the country volunteered to help clean-up the spill and restore the area and it still took 10 years to return the beach to its original state.
The first step in the recovery process will be the work containing the oil spill. Efforts to date have seen 75 per cent of the spill contained with the rest reaching the beautiful shoreline beaches. Although the accident occurred in Mauritius, Japan is still responsible for the damages and should make every effort to overcome it for the sake of the severely damaged coastline and its residents that depend upon it. In order to restore this idyllic marine ecosystem and the livelihoods of the people who depend upon it, everyone will have to join efforts and work hard on a coordinated effort to help with the clean-up process.
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