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Friday, May 07, 2021

Explained: Why are people protesting in Mauritius?

The Mauritius oil spill, which came in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, has been a major blow to the country that relies heavily on tourism. It has left a 15 km stretch of the coastline stained with oil.

By: Explained Desk | New Delhi |
Updated: September 2, 2020 9:15:01 am
Mauritius protests, Mauritius oil spill protests, Mauritius oil spill, Mauritius protests oil spill, Explained Global, Express Explained, Indian ExpressTens of thousands of people protest in Port Louis, Mauritius, Saturday Aug. 29, 2020, over the government's slow response to an oil spill from a grounded Japanese ship and the alarming discovery of dozens of dead dolphins. (Beekash Roopun/L'express Maurice via AP)

Thousands of people Saturday protested in Mauritius over the government’s handling of the oil spill that ravaged the South-East coast of the country in what is being called one of the biggest protests the island nation has seen in recent years. Recently, over 39 dead dolphins washed up on the shore and it is suspected that they could have died as a result of the oil spill.

The oil spill, which came in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic has been a major blow to the country that relies heavily on tourism and has left a 15 km stretch of the coastline that is recognised as a biodiversity hotspot stained with oil.

What caused the Mauritius oil spill?

A Japanese ship named M V Wakashio, which is owned by Nagashiki Shipping and operated by Mitsui OSK Lines Ltd, struck a coral reef resulting in an oil spill of over 1,000 tonnes into the Indian Ocean in late July. The ship was carrying an estimated 4,000 tonnes of oil.

What is being done about the oil spill?

An article in the journal Nature notes that the government is not geared up to deal with a catastrophe this size and therefore experts arrived from other countries such as France, Japan and the UK and a team was sent by the UN to manage the oil spill. Now, the oil spill experts are charting a plan to clean the coastline “properly”.

How does the oil spill compare to others around the world?

The BBC reported that rather than the size of the oil spill, it was the area where it happened which was a cause for concern. The accident had taken place near two environmentally protected marine ecosystems and the Blue Bay Marine Park Reserve, which is a wetland of international importance.

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Some of the world’s largest oil spills include the Persian Gulf War oil spill of 1991, when more than 380 million gallons of oil was poured into the northern Persian Gulf by Iraq’s forces.

The 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is also considered to be among the largest known accidental oil spills in history. Starting April 20, 2010, over 4 million barrels of oil flowed over a period of 87 days into the Gulf of Mexico.

In 2016, a United States Geological Survey (USGS)-NASA study found that the 2010 oil spill led to “widespread” shoreline loss along the heavily oiled areas along Louisiana’s coast. “Erosion rates were highest along shorelines documented with heavy to moderate oiling, and were lower along shorelines that experienced low oiling,” a USGS release noted.

How dangerous are oil spills?

Oil spills affect marine life by exposing them to harsh elements and destroying their sources of food and habitat. Further, both birds and mammals can die from hypothermia as a result of oil spills, according to the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). For instance, oil destroys the insulating ability of fur-bearing mammals, such as sea otters. It also decreases the water repellency of birds’ feathers, without which they lose their ability to repel cold water.

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