Volunteers Cut off Their Hair to Help Clear Major Oil Spill in Mauritius

The stricken ship might break in two as authorities race against time to pump all the oil out.
Derya Ozdemir

It was the evening of Saturday, July 25 when the Japanese-owned and Panama-registered MV Wakashio grounded on coral reefs in the tropical island of Mauritius. The ship sat for over a week before cracks appeared in its hull and an estimated 200 tons of diesel and 2,800 tons of heavy fuel oil on board started to spill. 

The turquoise blue lagoon outside the coastal village of Mahébourg started to turn black with terrifying satellite images showing the gruesome impact.

On August 7, the government declared the incident a national emergency after at least 1,000 tons of fuel oil estimated to have already emptied into the lagoon, BBC reports. The flow of oil has now stopped; however, the officials are racing against time to drain an estimated 2,500 tons of oil from the bulk carrier before it breaks in half and further pollutes the water.

People of Mauritius, however, think that the authorities have been too slow to act and have taken the matters into their hands.


The residents, whose income depend on the island's tourism and fishing, are doing whatever they can do contain the oil by making booms from sugar cane leaves, plastic bottles, and old stockings. Most recently, in a united effort, volunteers are cutting off their hair to help absorb the oil spill.

The science behind the campaign is simple: human hair is lipophilic, which means it repels water but attaches to oil, acting as a very efficient separator since one kilogram of hair can absorb 8 liters of oil.

The campaign launched by Mauritians is encouraging people to trim their locks to collect massive quantities of human hair to help soak the oil spill. Some hairdressers are even offering free haircuts to those who are willing to donate.

The hair is planned to be sewn into tubes and nets and be floated on the water to gather and clean up the oil, and the people are determined to follow through despite government issuing warnings to stay away from the spill and not risk their health.

This environmental devastation is especially terrifying for a small island like Mauritius since it will impact the fishing and tourism greatly. The oil has spilled near biodiverse wetlands, which are known to protect the country from sea level rise.

It is also greatly threatening the local marine life and corals as the normally-turquoise coastline remains covered in thick oil. With more and more oil spills happening, with one other being 600 gallons of diesel spilling in the water near Galapagos Islands, environmental organizations are renewing their calls that the world should accelerate the move away from oil.

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