Update 28/08/2020: Preliminary autopsies have been carried out on two dolphins and found no trace of oil in their bodies, leaving their cause of death unknown for now.
A number of dead dolphins have washed up on the shores of Mauritius this week in the wake of a recent catastrophic oil spill.
A government official told Reuters on Wednesday that 17 dead dolphins have been reported on Mauritius’s beaches, then said another seven had been found the following day. Researchers have been carrying out autopsies of the animals and hope to have the results this week.
“The dead dolphins had several wounds and blood around their jaws, no trace of oil, however. The ones that survived, around 10, seemed very fatigued and could barely swim,” Jasvin Sok Appadu, an official from the fisheries ministry, told Reuters on Wednesday.
It’s also been reported that many fish and crabs have been found dead in the local area. While none of the deaths have been explicitly linked to the oil spill yet, locals and environmental groups are pointing the finger at the recent spill.
“This is a deeply sad and alarming day for the people of Mauritius and for its singular biodiversity, itself known and appreciated by the worldwide biodiversity community. Greenpeace appeals to the authorities to carry out a swift, transparent and public autopsy on the bodies collected,” Happy Khambule, Greenpeace Africa Senior Climate and Energy campaign manager, said in a statement via email.
MV Wakashio, a Japanese-owned bulk carrier currently sailing under the flag of Panama, hit a coral reef near Mauritius in the Indian Ocean on the evening of July 25. Choppy weather in early August then caused the abandoned ship to breach and start leaking oil into the nearby pristine waters. As of August 11, around 800 to 900 tonnes of fuel oil had leaked from the breached tank and headed towards the lagoon surrounding Pointe d’Esny on the southeast coast of Mauritius.
On Monday, August 24, authorities decided to deliberately sink the vessel after it had split into two. Needless to say, this proved a highly controversial move and many disapproved of the action, saying it would only worsen the environmental impact of the shipwreck.
“Out of all available options, the Mauritian government is choosing the worst one,” Khambule said in another statement.
“Sinking this vessel would risk biodiversity and contaminate the ocean with large quantities of heavy metal toxins, threatening other areas as well, notably the French island of La Réunion. Mauritians had nothing to gain from the MV Wakashio crossing their waters and are now asked to pay the price of this disaster. More pollution further risks their tourist-based economy and fish-based food security”.
It’s well established that oil spills negatively affect the surrounding environment, especially nearby marine ecosystems. Fortunately, the recent spill in Mauritius is nowhere near the scale of other major oil spills that have gone down in infamy. However, given that Mauritius closely relies on its marine environment for tourism, the oil spill has the potential to cause economic upset for a number of years.
“Beyond the fact that tourism brings almost 24 percent of our GDP, we are confronted with a major ecological disaster. This is happening in one of the marine parks. That marine park houses some rare species and some very delicate ecosystems," Ameenah Gurib-Fakim, a biodiversity scientist who served as the President of Mauritius from 2015 to 2018, told CNBC Africa.
"We are terrified of the aftermath of this horrible damage.”