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Mauritius oil spill: priorities and recommendations

Posted on August, 27 2020

WWF is concerned about the effects of toxic contamination on wildlife and coastal communities, and welcomes news that the international community is mobilizing to support clean-up efforts.
Local and international response
WWF praises the local organizations and community groups on Mauritius for their rapid response to the oil spill and for their efforts to remove oil. WWF welcomes the news that the international community is mobilizing to support Mauritius in its clean-up efforts.

Concerns and immediate priorities
The front portion of the ship has been moved and sunk. WWF believes a better option would have been to take the floating and secured damaged portion to a safe refuge where disposal options could be assessed. WWF hopes that the operation regarding the remainder of the MV Wakashio will follow such established practice, so the vessel can be dismantled and disposed of in a way that does not pose a threat to local ecosystems.

WWF remains deeply concerned by the amount of oil that leaked from the MV Wakashio and into the coastal waters of Mauritius, where it is coating beaches, coral reefs, seagrasses and mangroves in a poisonous sludge and putting lagoon fisheries as well as whales, dolphins, seabirds and sea turtles at risk of toxic contamination.
There is also significant risk of potential long-term damage associated with sediment burial of oil, and then chronic impacts as the oil and other contaminants affect the food chain over the longer term. The shedding of potentially toxic anti-fouling coatings is also of concern, along with the physical damage to the reef from the grounding.

The priority now must be on removing as much of the oil as possible from the coastal system, managing the direct and indirect effects of the oil on wildlife and habitats, and assessing and responding to the impact of the spill on the communities and economic sectors.  

Natural resource damage assessment and restoration, and international support
We need “all hands on deck’’ to support Mauritius in this crisis. We need environmental scientists and biological experts to quickly set up monitoring programmes to track the impact of the spill, including the potential contamination of fisheries and coastal sediments and habitats.

WWF calls for a natural resource damage assessment (NRDA) to determine the significance of impacts caused by this oil spill. The NRDA should include inputs from affected communities and the public, and experts should determine the extent of damage as well as best methods for restoration activities. The types of impacts that should be assessed include habitats and ecosystems, with special attention to species of importance for livelihoods or nutrition, and socio-economic impacts, including to the asset base on which the tourism industry depends. The NRDA should look at direct, indirect, and cumulative impacts. The establishment of a comprehensive monitoring programme is a top priority.

Shipping and oil spill response
The global community needs to mobilize to drive shipping reform and oil spill preparedness to prevent such spills from happening again. Vulnerable Small Island Developing States cannot be left to bear the burden of lost ocean productivity, clean-up and restoration on their own.

The regional oil spill contingency mechanism, led by the Indian Ocean Commission, and other relevant country groupings such as the Nairobi Convention, should draw lessons and implement policy solutions to prevent such occurrences, and hold those responsible to account if incidents do occur.

Of course, prevention is better than cure. WWF recommends routing measures to keep ships well away from sensitive areas, and ensuring mariners are aware of this via electronic charts and mapping.

Support to those affected
Support should be provided to the people most affected by the oil spill, in particular the fishing communities and those dependent on lagoon resources for nutrition and livelihoods. This includes support and advice on accessing compensation mechanisms, especially if they use an on-line format.

Oil spills are fully avoidable; when they occur, those responsible must be held accountable and funds for the clean-up must be released quickly. Too often, the process of securing compensation and payment takes years to be completed. We call on the company and the flag state to move quickly and release funds for the clean-up effort, when they can be put to immediate use. A comprehensive, independent investigation and inquiry should be launched with a commitment to making the findings public. However, securing funds for the clean-up should not wait until the findings of an inquiry.

Any compensation should also cover the implementation of a longer-term restoration plan for damaged natural resources, which may take years. These natural resources are the foundation for the food and livelihoods of coastal communities, as well as the basis for the country’s tourism industry.

Blue economy and wildlife
Coastal tourism, fishing, seafood processing and seaport activities contribute over 10.5% of the Mauritian GDP, with total direct employment estimated at over 7,000, excluding coastal tourism.

The task of managing the rehabilitation and ultimate restoration of the affected habitats must be scaled up and resourced adequately to put Mauritius on the road to recovery, underpinned by a sustainable ocean-based economy.

Protecting populations of great whales is an important strategy for building a “blue economy.” Globally, whale and dolphin watching is valued at over US$2 billion annually. Healthy populations of whales and coastal dolphins are crucial for sustainably managed tourism in Mauritius.

Globally, whales and dolphins rely on specific ocean habitats – areas where they feed, mate, give birth, or migrate – for their survival. Mauritius is a hub for a variety of iconic species. Humpback whales also make their epic migrations north from their summer feeding grounds off Antarctica to breed in the Southwest Indian Ocean.
Oil Spill Mauritius, August 2020
© Brady Goorappa