“I love my country. I am ashamed of my government.”
Tens of thousands of Mauritian citizens paraded through the country’s capital, sporting T-shirts with these words emblazoned on them. They drummed and honked horns, protesting against the Mauritian government for how it handled the oil spill that happened a month ago.
Mauritius is a small island country in the Indian Ocean and to the east of Africa. Its beautiful beaches, diverse marine life, and luxurious resorts make it a perfect destination for tourists year-round.
On July 25, the MV Wakashio, a Japanese tanker carrying 4,000 tons of oil, ran aground on a coral reef in the Indian Ocean and spilled more than 1,000 tons into the water. The area where the reef is located is called Pointe d’Esny, and it’s a sanctuary for many rare species.
On August 7, Prime Minister Pravind Jugnauth declared a state of environmental emergency.
As of September 1, 39 dolphins and three whales have already shown up dead on Mauritius’s shores. Many more animals and marine life are injured or sick. It is still uncertain whether the oil spill caused these animals to die or not, but experts are performing autopsies to investigate the cause of these creatures’ deaths.
The damage to Mauritius's ecosystem could have a lasting impact on the nation’s people. Many people depend on the ocean for fish to eat, and the wetlands and coral reefs protect them from the rising sea level. Additionally, much of the economy is built upon tourism, and oily ocean waters and beaches could decrease the number of tourists.
Recently, protests against the Mauritian government have sprung up, demanding the government tell the truth and criticizing them for the way the oil spill was handled.
Seventy-five thousand protestors gathered at Port Louis to express their anger to Jugnauth. The protestors are angry that the prime minister didn’t do anything when the MV Wakashio sailed towards Mauritius. After the tanker spilled oil all over the crystal-blue waters, the government waited 13 days before taking action.
The protestors believe that the government’s incompetence in dealing with this situation harmed both wildlife and those that depend on the ocean for their livelihood.
Mauritians decided to take matters into their own hands by using hair to soak up the oil in the ocean.
Using straws, tights, sugarcane leaves, and other materials, they made barriers to stop the oil from spreading further on the water. Volunteers scooped up the oil using buckets, and helicopters assisted the transfer. People also gathered together near the oil spill, banging iron bars to scare away animals and prevent them from getting stranded in the oil.
Environmental groups Greenpeace Africa and Greenpeace Japan, along with Mauritian human rights group Dis Moi, wrote a letter to the Mauritian government. In the letter, they listed demands such as an investigation into the shipwreck and asked that the ship owners and operators take responsibility for the damages.
This oil spill could devastate Mauritius’s economy and environment, but Mauritians are determined to save their oceans and wildlife.
Sources: BBC, Britannica, Gizmodo, DW, LA Times