The recent news of oil spill near Mauritius has brought in focus the careless attitude we have towards the environment. On July 25, the MV Wakashio was grounded on a coral reef off the coast of Mauritius. Since then, the ship has released 1,000 tons of fuel into the sea, where it has fouled the region's biologically rich waters and coastlines. The news has been awash with images of an oil spill off the coast of Mauritius – a beautiful, tropical island in the middle of the Indian Ocean. The island of Mauritius has declared a 'state of environmental emergency' post this incident. The oil is spilling into a beautiful lagoon off the coast of Pointe d'Esny, an area of international ecological importance.
Prime Minister of Mauritius Pravind Jugnauth declared the spill an "environmental emergency" on August 7. The government also sought international help to contain the damage. Locals are also actively involved in clean-up efforts. Environmentalists are concerned about the impact of the oil spill on the fragile ecosystem. That area is faced with a catastrophe that will poison fish, bird, and coral life for years to come, as well as the communities that rely on them.
How dangerous are oil spills?
The oil spill threatens the ecology of the coastline of Mauritius and the marine life in the Indian Ocean.
Oil on ocean surfaces is harmful to many forms of aquatic life because it prevents enough sunlight from penetrating the surface, and it also reduces the level of dissolved oxygen.
It endangers the already endangered coral reefs, seagrasses in the shallow waters, mangroves, the fishes and other aquatic fauna.
Some critical wildlife at risk includes Giant tortoises, endangered green turtle and the critically endangered Pink Pigeon.
Ingested oil can be toxic to affected animals and damage their habitat and reproductive rate.
If beaches and populated shorelines are fouled, tourism and commerce may be severely affected.
The power plants and other utilities that depend on drawing or discharging seawater are severely affected by oil spills.
The immediate suspension of commercial fishing frequently follows significant oil spills.
How are oil spills cleaned?
What are some of the techniques that could be used to clean up the oil spill?
Surface Dispersants - Chemical dispersants pull apart oil particles suspended in water, reducing the oil slick to droplets that can be degraded by naturally occurring bacteria.
Underwater Dispersants - the idea is that underwater dispersants attach to the oil before it can reach the surface, thus minimizing the amount of oil that eventually lands onshore.
Controlled Burns - this can be ignited remotely from the air and burned off. The process of burning removes large portions of oil from the water’s surface, keeping it away from the shoreline.
Booms and Skimmers - Booms are used to collect oil in concentrated areas, while skimmers separate the crude from the water.
Vacuum/pumping, which removes pooled oil on marsh sediment or the surface of the water
Low-pressure flush - which pushes oil towards collection points where other equipment is operating, like skimmers or vacuums.
Bioremediation - a potential low-impact cleaning technique, uses microorganisms and their enzymes to facilitate decomposition. Nitrate or sulphate fertilizers are used to promote decay.
There are other ways to clean up oil spills including skimming, in situ burning and by releasing chemical dispersants. Skimming involves removing oil from the sea surface before it can reach the sensitive areas along the coastline. In situ burning means burning a patch of oil after it has concentrated in one area.
Releasing chemical dispersants helps break down oil into smaller droplets, making it easier for microbes to consume, and further break it down into less harmful compounds. Natural actions in aquatic environments such as weather, evaporation, biodegradation, and oxidation can help in reducing the severity of the oil spill and accelerate the recovery of an affected area.
How can you lend a helping hand during an oil spill?
An oil spill is one of the most common tragedies faced throughout the world. Although these oils spills may not be a major catastrophe in nature, however, if you do discover an oil leak or have a spill, you need to deal with it immediately. You can always start small, take precaution around your surrounding first.
Dealing with an oil spill
If you can safely stop the flow of oil do. If there’s room, and you will not get oil on your skin, put a bucket under the leak and close valves or taps.
Use the contents of your spill kit, sandbags, or the earth to soak up the oil if it is on a hard surface and stop it entering a river, stream, watercourse, and drains or soaking into the ground.
Never wash any spilt oil away into drains, a gully or into the ground. Most drains connect to the nearest watercourse and oil can cause severe pollution of rivers, streams and groundwater.
Never use detergents to clean up spilt oil; you could cause a worse pollution incident. The detergent itself is a pollutant and mixes oil into the water.
You may be in an environmentally sensitive location which needs a rapid response to prevent severe pollution of the local environment and nearby groundwater drinking water supplies.
In case you are not able to curtail the oil spill, seek professional help from your respective authorities to prevent severe disasters.
It is time to be more vigilant and cautious.
The accident will focus attention on the oil industry, as companies come under increasing pressure to bear responsibility for pollution caused by their product, as well as that resulting from their operations. The images of oil-fouled beaches and wildlife from a pristine Indian Ocean island will add more pressure for change and a move away from a fuel that is increasingly seen to be unsustainable for reasons of local and global pollution. Imposing exclusion zones around vulnerable islands may provide some protection, but this latest accident is a loud call for a shift to less polluting ship fuels.