Oil spill disasters have been one of the major concerns of the marine world for a long time now. Incidents like wildfires and oil spill end up destroying our planet. Such disasters are both environmentally and commercially devastating. Tourism sector in Mauritius collapsed after the government cut the island off from the world to get the coronavirus outbreak under control. Now, the country's worst-ever ecological disaster would further trouble this industry and its economic lifeblood. When an oil slick reaches the beach, it also affects human settlement on the beaches and mangrove forests etc. In short an oil spill completely disturbs an entire ecosystem for quite a long period of time. In this blog we will be talking about the oil spill disaster that occurred in Mauritius in July 2020.
How did it occur
On July 25, a stricken Japanese-owned ship "MV Wakashio" had struck a coral reef resulting in an oil spill of over 1,00 tonnes in Indian Ocean. The ship was carrying an estimated 4,000 tonnes of oil. According to the reports of BBC rather than the size of the oil spill, it is the area where the incident has happened is a cause for concern. The oil spill had taken place near two environmentally protected marine ecosystems and the Blue Bay Marine Park Reserve - a wetland of international importance. And that’s not all it is home to turtles, 72 species of fish and coral diversity of 38 species. The turquoise water of the blue lagoon outside the coastal village of Mahébourg in Mauritius which all of you must have seen in the backdrop of the Bollywood movies are now stained black and brown. Out of all the goods imported by Mauritius, petroleum oils and oils obtained by the bituminous minerals is one of the most imported products that accounts for 16.6 percent share in total imported goods.
Oil spills affect marine life by exposing them to harsh elements and destroying their sources of food and habitat. It could lead to the extinction of rare plants and wildlife species. According to the US NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration), both birds and mammals can die from hypothermia as a result of oil spills. Oil destroys the insulating ability of fur-bearing animals such as sea otters. It also decreases the water repellency of bird’s feathers.
People from Mauritius have called for urgent international help to stop the ecological and economic damage. Thousands of volunteers have assembled miles of improvised floating barriers in a desperate attempt to hold back the oily tide. Helicopters have been deployed to Mauritius to transfer fuel from the ship on to shore. A fundraiser has also been set up by a Mauritian-based NGO Eco-Sud to help clean-up the oil spill affected area. You can also sign a petition calling for the United Nations to help oversee the cleanup efforts.
Cleaning of oil spills
It takes month-long oil cleaning operations to bring back the areas around the accident back to normality. There are a few ways to clean up the oil spills like skimming, In situ burning and releasing chemical dispersants in the sea. ‘Skimming’ is a process of removing oil from the sea surface before it is able to reach the sensitive areas along the coastline. ‘In situ burning’ means burning a particular patch of oil after it has concentrated in one area. The ‘releasing of chemical dispersants’ helps in breaking off oil into smaller droplets making it easier for the microbes to consume. Other ways namely weathering, evaporation, emulsification, biodegradation and oxidation can also reduce the severity of the oil spill in the affected area.
Major oil spills around the world
At the same time let us have a look at the largest and worst oil spills in world history. World’s largest oil spill happened during the Gulf war in 1991. The fire lasted for about 3-4 months. As a result around 240 million gallons of oil was discharged into the Persian Gulf killing hundreds of species in the maritime world.
Another oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is considered to be the largest oil spill in the petroleum industry’s history. In April 2010 the accident began after a spill from a seafloor oil gusher leading to the explosion. Over 53,000 barrels of oil flowed into the Gulf of Mexico every day. The largest oil spills across the globe have released gallons of oil resulting in fouled coastlines, polluted fisheries and threat to the tourism industry.
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