Save Paradise from Petrol Disaster -- Protect the greatest treasures of the Indian Ocean

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The island nation of Mauritius hosts breathtaking marine and terrestrial ecosystems of international importance, including the Blue Bay Marine Park and its thousand-year-old brain coral. 

On July 25th, the Japanese cargo ship MV Wakashio deviated from the international shipping lanes and ran aground on a Mauritian coral reef, cracking the hull. It held approximately 3,800 metric tons (MT) of fuel, and after 12 days stranded on the reef without adequate government efforts to deal with the crisis, leaked 1000 MT of toxic fuel into one of the most beautiful lagoons on the island. On August 15th, the ship finally cracked into two, drenching sensitive marine life in even more toxins. 

I am one of thousands of local people battling night and day to try to contain the damage this Japanese ship is causing to our homelands and livelihoods. 

We are calling on the Governments of Mauritius and Japan to act immediately to stop the devastation and save our paradise. 

The extent of the pollution and its long-term impacts on marine life will take time to analyze and must be continually monitored. Four precious ecosystems in the Mahebourg lagoon --  including two Ramsar sites, or wetland sites of recognized international importance -- have already suffered biological and chemical impacts:

  • The world-famous Blue Bay Marine Park - home to the ancient brain coral and other unique coral species, sea turtle transit and incredible fish species; and Pointe D'esny - a 22-hectare mangrove forest 1.2 kms away. 
  • The magical islet "Île aux Aigrettes" - one of the most prominent nature reserves in the Indian Ocean. A 25-hectare island just offshore, it contains some of the rarest species on the planet and is a refuge for unique trees, shrubs and flowers such as ebony and the Calvaria tree that was once thought to be entirely dependent on the Dodo for its survival, and the Dragon plant or bois chandelle. All of these have been on the brink of extinction and have been painstakingly tended for many years.
  • The Lagoon itself - had just been revitalized after years of hard work and was teeming with marine species and blooming corals. But all this regeneration is threatened, and it’s a race against time to remove the oil before coral spawning starts.

The natural ecosystems are not the only ones to suffer from this catastrophic spill. Many people on the coastline depend on the lagoon for their very survival -- the whole chain from pleasure craft owners, divers, fishmongers and pineapple sellers will be affected for years. Without a clean lagoon, they can’t provide for their families or send their kids to school. They have already been severely hit by COVID19: UN data shows that inequality is rising and poverty expanding. Those operating in the informal sector will be left furthest behind -- unless we join together to ensure they are supported. 

Why was the ship sailing so dangerously close to the reef? Why have the Japanese companies involved -- Nagashiki Shipping and Mitsui OSK Lines (one of the largest and wealthiest shipping companies in the world) done so little since the ship ran aground? What is their plan for reducing the damage to the environment, and the pain and suffering of those whose livelihoods depend on it?

We volunteers are stepping in, but it’s not enough. We need to be louder and more powerful together. 

Please join us in asking the Japanese and Mauritian government for the following: 

  • We want rapid action to clean up the spill using environmental best practices and with full implementation of the polluter pays principle for the costs. We want assurances that the affected communities, including the already marginalized workers in the informal sector, will be adequately compensated and supported. 
  • We want answers. We request an independent, fully-funded inquiry to determine what happened and how the response could have been improved. Disaster could have been averted during the twelve days that the vessel was trapped on the reef. 
  • We want the owners of this ship to stop using this route. If you can’t respect the precious ecosystems, you should stop using the “innocent passage” to transit the area. And we want the companies to get out of fossil fuels. 

Thank you for your support - please sign and share this with everyone you know to make this call for justice and recovery as loud as it can be!! 

You’ll find me at the spill site. 

Sunil Dowarkasing