Oil Spill to Inflict Major Environmental Damages on Small Island Nation of Mauritius

Updated: Oct 18, 2021

On July 25, the Japanese oil bulk carrier, MV Wakashio, ran aground a coral reef off the coast of Mauritius—a small island nation located east of Madagascar in the Indian Ocean. The oil carrier remained stable on the coral reef for two weeks, until Aug. 6, when the ship began to leak oil

The ship, which initially carried about 4,000 tons of oil, has spilled over 1,000 tons of fuel into the lagoon on the southeast coast of Mauritius.

On Aug. 7, prime minister Pravind Jugnauth and environmental minister Kavy Ramano declared a state of emergency and requested the aid of the French to help clean up the oil, stating that Mauritius “[is] in a situation of environmental crisis” and “must be prepared for the worst.”

The oil spill, which is located right next to two of Mauritius’ environmental marine sanctuaries, is expected to wreak havoc on the nation’s marine biodiversity—comprising 1,700 species, including 786 species of fish and 17 species of marine mammals. Oil spills can have disastrous effects on animals in surrounding areas, causing deformities in fish, coating the feathers of birds, and destroying the insulating ability of mammals. Oil spills can also seep into plant life, killing plants, and damage entire marine ecosystems.

“Thousands of species around the pristine lagoons of Blue Bay, Pointe d’Esny and Mahebourg are at risk of drowning in a sea of pollution, with dire consequences for Mauritius’ economy, food security, and health,” Happy Khambule, Greenpeace Africa Senior Climate and Energy Campaign Manager, said.

As a result of the environmental damage, Mauritius’ tourism sector will take a major hit. Tourism, which has already been hit hard by travel restrictions resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic, is one of the three pillars of the Mauritius economy and accounts for 20% of jobs and 25% of the country’s GDP. Because of the oil spill, tourists may be deterred away from the island in the future, and tourism could take an even bigger hit.

As a small island nation located in the center of the ocean, climate change poses a greater risk to Mauritius than it does to most nations, and the oil spill will only exacerbate its effects. Specifically, the oil spill will destroy carbon-dioxide-absorbing coral reefs and organisms, which are essential in fighting the spread of climate change. These coral reefs capture carbon dioxide, much like trees, and when too much accumulates in the water, they can become bleached. Carbon dioxide is one of the main greenhouse gases causing climate change.

While the oil already spilled poses disastrous environmental consequences for Mauritius, the situation could get much worse for the small island nation. According to officials on the ground working on the spill, a crack is beginning to split the hull of the boat. Officials have tried to remove the remaining barrels of oil left on the boat, and have removed about 1,000 more tons of fuel from the ship, but over 2,000 tons still remain on the ship.

If the ship breaks into 2 pieces, due to the crack, the rest of the oil would spill into the already permeated water of Mauritius. According to Mauritian environmental activist Vassen Kauppaymuthoo, if that happens, the country, and the whole east coast of Africa, might face irremediable damage.

“The damage we are seeing now is nothing compared to what may happen when the Wakashio will break,” he said. “The whole east coast, from Blue Bay to Grand Gaube will be affected.”

Through Teen Lenses: Have you heard about the oil spill off the coast of Mauritius? If so, how do you think the global community could prevent it?

“Yes, I have heard about the oil spill. Prevention for these disasters is absolutely necessary. Stricter regulations regarding offshore oil drilling are an absolute must. Additionally, oil companies must work with experts to be properly equipped to handle these disasters and all employees should be trained on both prevention and disaster relief. Furthermore, we as a society need to lessen our dependence on fossil fuels and invest in renewable energy to prevent damage to our environment.” Angela Sidhu, Rising Sophomore at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, Alexandria, Virginia
“Yeah I have definitely heard about it! I think the biggest problem is our heavy reliance on fossil fuels. Not only does it harm our atmosphere but also scenarios like this harm economies and most importantly, ocean life. To tackle the root of the problem would be to transition our world to renewable energy. This will not only help the climate crisis but prevent this from happening again.” Nabikshya Rayamajhi, Rising Junior at Sheldon High School, Eugene, Oregan
“I haven’t heard of the spill specifically, but with oil spills in general I think we just need to make it more expensive for businesses to make mistakes like that. If you simply make the cost of creating an oil spill higher than the cost of safeguarding against it, business will take the cheaper option.” Jawand Singh, Rising Sophomore at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, Alexandria, Virginia
“I have heard about it, I think the best ways we can prevent oil spills before they happen is to just stop using fossil fuels” Abbi Pettinati, Rising Sophomore at Salisbury University, Maryland