Mauritius: What happened, the response, and what you can do to help

On the 25th of July 2020, the Japanese bulk oil carrier ‘MV Wakashio’ ran aground, and the front section of the ship detached. Around one thousand tonnes of the oil inside the ship leaked into the sea, causing a huge ecological disaster for marine life in one of Mauritius’ most sensitive ocean areas, which could take decades to recover. The wildlife at risk ranges from seagrass on the ocean bed, which has taken years to build up, to endangered birds like the 'pink pigeon', to giant tortoises, all of which had before lived safely and peacefully in the region. Now, a recovery mission has been mounted to save the reef’s plants and animals and to prevent any more spilling, an operation took place to remove more oil from the ship.

The first major action started on the 6th of August, close to when the oil started to show itself after the leak, the government and various ecological agencies asked for and received help. Not only were helicopters sent out to take the remaining oil from the ship, but thousands of volunteers travelled to try and control the spread. Barriers were created out of straw, hair and even clothing to put in the water, containing it as much as possible, but the slick quickly covered much of the area. After the barriers were created, people stood with buckets, manually removing as much oil as possible. More than five hundred tonnes have been removed so far, with much more to go. At the same time, movements such as @savemauritiusreef on Instagram and Eco-Sud have been working hard to spread the word, provide aid and support the safety. Even a petition has been started to force the U.N.’s hand in the clean-up, and every signing counts towards aid they will hopefully receive given the long-lasting impact the spill will have. Equally importantly, a separate operation has been mounted and mostly successful to prevent more oil being spilled, with helicopter teams removing oil from the damaged ship. There were around three thousand tonnes of oil not spilled in the original leak, and although we don’t have exact numbers, we know that now a large amount of that has been recovered.

But why is it such a tragedy? Well, this furthers a problem which has been going on for years in the country and across the world, and speeds it up in an unprecedented fashion. Across Mauritius, live coral declined by up to 70% from 1997 to 2007 and now even more will be irreparably lost. Furthermore, many communities rely on the reef economically. It’s sad enough losing a beautiful ecosystem but the loss of wildlife (especially coral and fish) hurts communities too. Across the world, many rely on similar ecosystems for income from fishing, or tourism or conservation programmes. In Mauritius the coastal tourism industry, which accounts for about 20% of the national GDP and employs 20% of the population will be heavily hit, adding to recovery costs and generational shifts.

Because of this effect, what has been clear throughout the crisis is the solidarity around this issue with native Mauritians. From the on the ground volunteer response to outpourings of love for the reef, (as with here), people simply want to save their home, and this echoes Straw by Straw’s ethos of working towards a more sustainable planet perfectly. The oceans are such an important part of our planet and are home to so much wildlife that we have to work to preserve. Yet again, we are seeing how hard wildlife can be hit without control or care, and how much we can actually be active in protecting these spaces.

As for what you can do right now, signing the petition linked above, donating to organisations such as Greenpeace, Eco-sud, or @savemauritiusreef all help, and for a limited time, we’re releasing our pro-ocean ‘no fish ever trashed your house’ jumper, and donating all profits to this crowdfund. Showing your support by donating really helps, and spreading the word (including this article) can get even more donations.

Every day we use thousands of plastics around the globe which largely end up in landfills and the ocean! Why continue to contribute to that in your restaurant when there are millions of straws growing in nature every year? You can buy from us here or read more on our product here. If you’re a restaurant or events organiser considering taking on our solution, please feel free to contact us via e-mail on ‘theo@strawbystraw.com’ or on mobile at +447491827894 or +31648142608