On February 5th, a large cargo ship known as Solomon Trader ran aground in Rennell Island, in the Solomon Islands.
Unfortunately, the ship was carrying over 770 tons of fuel oil, and a leak in the ship has caused the oil to ooze out into the ocean around it for the past month.
To make matters worse, the oil is spilling into a UN Heritage Site known as East Rennell, and it is slowly damaging the coral atoll and the wildlife surrounding it. Efforts are being made to sustain the damage, but little progress has been made over the past month.
A Heritage Site
The Solomon Islands is a nation comprised of six major islands and hundreds of smaller islands scattered across the South Pacific Ocean. They come under a region known as Melanesia (comprised of Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, Papua New Guinea, and Fiji), located to the north-east of Australia.
These islands are formed from either volcanic eruptions or from coral atolls. Atolls are ring-shaped islands that surround a lagoon. To learn how atolls form, read our earlier article here. Many of these islands are covered with rainforests, and the unique wildlife and fauna in the atolls are what the islanders rely on for survival.
Located at the southern end of Rennell Island, East Rennell covers a third of the island’s southern area. This area consists of rainforests, beaches, and Lake Tegano, which was once a lagoon. Lake Tegano is the largest lake in the Pacific, and its brackish water and smaller limestone islands are home to over twenty species of birds and a species of venomous snake known as Crocker’s sea snake.
Compared to the rest of the Solomon Islands, this coral reef was relatively untouched, making it a perfect natural laboratory. In 1998, East Rennell, as the world’s largest raised coral atoll, was declared a World Heritage Site. In 2013, this site was classified as one of the World Heritage Sites in Danger. While fishing and mining had once posed a threat but were stopped, logging continues to threaten the forests of East Rennell. And the atoll is now in even more danger as the oil continues to pollute its waters.
By now, over 80 tons of oil has spilled out onto the coral reefs, three miles away from Rennell Island’s shores where over a thousand villagers live. Unfortunately, King Trader, the company that owns the ship has been slow to respond to the disaster. As a result, the government of the Solomon Islands asked Australia for help which has sent teams to help tackle the pollution.
Meanwhile, the sand and water in Kangava Bay in East Rennell have been blackened by the oil. Residents have reported trouble breathing because of the oil stench. They are unable to drink water from the freshwater springs and streams, and can no longer fish for food as fishing is banned. As a result, people in these coastal villages have to depend on supplies being from the capital city of Honiara.
Even more alarming, the coral reef ecosystem could sustain permanent damage. Time is of the essence, both for saving the coral reef and helping the people of the island resume their normal livelihood. The video below describes the fascinating U.N heritage site of East Rennell.
Sources: NPR, Guardian, Britannica, VOA, Wikipedia