Tag Archives: Mauritius

Oil spill update: Mauritius pumps out almost all the fuel from the Japanese cargo ship

Thanks to the laudable efforts of salvage crews, almost all the fuel from the giant Japanese cargo ship that has caused a massive oil spill near the coast of Mauritius has been pumped off.

It was a race against time as authorities feared the ship would break apart, but it seems that things are finally under control as most of the oil has been cleaned up, says Prime Minister Pravind Jugnauth.

Location of the Mahebourg Lagoon, Mauritius. Image via Google Earth,

The bulk-carrier is believed to have been carried 4,000 tons of fuel oil, 3,000 of which were pumped out. A small amount remains on board, and the rest has been spilled into the ocean. However, if the 3,000 tons hadn’t been pumped out, the spill would have been much, much worse.

The fuel was taken to shore by a helicopter and another ship owned by the same Japanese company, Nagashiki Shipping. Police spokesperson Shiva Cooten said that they “still have work to do but the situation is all under control,” while the Prime Minister celebrated the “excellent work.”

The ship ran aground in late July at Pointe d’Esny, a known sanctuary for rare wildlife. The area also has wetlands designated as a site of international importance.

The ship sat for over a week before cracks emerged in its hull, leaking around 1,000 tons of fuel into the water and causing an environmental disaster.

Credit European Space Agency

The oil leaked into the Mahebourg Lagoon, a scenic spot known for its turquoise waters. The government banned sand extraction from the lagoon in 2001 and has been working on rejuvenation efforts since then. Results were paying off, as marine life had returned and corals were growing before the spill. The oil spill could have undone all the work done so far and caused even more damage.

The Prime Minister declared a state of emergency and appealed for international help. France replied by sending a military aircraft with pollution-control equipment from its nearby island of Réunion, while Japan sent a six-member team to assist the French efforts. Local coast guards and police units are also at the site, and the local population has also rushed to help.

Dozens of volunteers went to the area to help. Some collected straw from fields and filling sacks to make barriers against the oil or even made their utensils to help. Others have been cleaning up the island’s oil-covered beaches.

The government told volunteers to stop and leave any efforts to officials. But people and local organizations are carrying on, wanting to help and also distrusting the authorities’ efforts in general. Back in 2016, a bulk carrier ran aground in Mauritius. There was a fight on board and the ship lost power before drifting to Mauritius, without the coastguard noticing any of this.

Greenpeace Africa warned that “thousands” of animal species are “at risk of drowning in a sea of pollution, with dire consequences for Mauritius’ economy, food security, and health”. Meanwhile, Vassen Kauppaymuthoom, a local oceanographer, said residents were “breathing vapors of oil.”

Mauritius is a biodiversity hotspot with a high concentration of plants and animals unique to the region. Its marine environment is home to 1,700 species including around 800 types of fish, 17 kinds of marine mammals and two species of turtles, making it very rich in biodiversity.

Around 25% of fish in the ocean depend on healthy coral reefs, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration of the US. They protect coastlines from storms and erosion and are the major pillars of the local tourism industry which is a big part of the country’s economy.

Forget Atlantis — “lost continent” found under Mauritius

Geologists have confirmed the existence of a “lost continent” off the island of Mauritius, but don’t get overly excited yet. It’s all geology, no mystic civilization.

The lost continent

Lead author Prof. Lewis D. Ashwal studying an outcropping of trachyte rocks in Mauritius. Such samples are about 6 million years old, but surprisingly contain zircon grains as old as 3000 million years. Credit: Susan Webb/Wits University

Some 200 million years ago, the Supercontinent Gondwana contained today’s Antarctica, South America, Africa, Madagascar, and the Australian continent, as well as the Arabian Peninsula and the Indian Subcontinent. As it started to break apart, a teeny tiny bit of it was left behind. Studying a mineral called zircon, geologists have found some of this “lost continent”.

“Earth is made up of two parts – continents, which are old, and oceans, which are “young”. On the continents you find rocks that are over four billion years old, but you find nothing like that in the oceans, as this is where new rocks are formed,” explains Ashwal. “Mauritius is an island, and there is no rock older than 9 million years old on the island. However, by studying the rocks on the island, we have found zircons that are as old as 3 billion years.”

Researchers have found very old zircon on the island before, but it hadn’t been placed into a broader context. These zircons mostly occur in continental granites — so old rocks. They contain trace amounts of uranium, thorium, and lead, which enables scientists to date them accurately. We know that these rocks and minerals come from an ancient crust, but this crust was subsequently covered by young lava during volcanic eruptions, which prevented their discovery until now. Now, researchers believe they’ve figured out the source of these granites in an ancient continent — a piece that broke off from Gondwana. Most of the rocks didn’t make it through the geological process, but the tough zircons did.

“The fact that we have found zircons of this age proves that there are much older crustal materials under Mauritius that could only have originated from a continent,” says Ashwal.

Variably sized crystals of alkali feldspar like the large white one at lower left are aligned by magmatic flow. A large zircon crystal appears as the brightly coloured grain just right of centre. Image here is taken through a petrographic microscope, cross-polarized light. Colors are not real. Credit: Wits University

Ashwal has now found several pieces of various sizes. He previously discovered several small zircons in the beach sand, but his study then was criticized with some geologists arguing that the minerals may have been brought there by wind.

“The fact that we found the ancient zircons in rock (6-million-year-old trachyte), corroborates the previous study and refutes any suggestion of wind-blown, wave-transported or pumice-rafted zircons for explaining the earlier results,” says Ashwal.

This information could help geologists reconstruct the Earth’s tectonic past, like a 3D jigsaw puzzle that shifts in time.

“We are studying the break-up process of the continents, in order to understand the geological history of the planet,” says Wits geologist, Professor Lewis Ashwal, lead author on the paper

The article, “Archaean zircons in Miocene oceanic hotspot rocks establish ancient continental crust beneath Mauritius”, has been published in the prestigious journal Nature Communications.