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.
New #satellite images of MV #Wakashio that ran aground off the coast of #Mauritius. The ship hit reefs near Pointe d’Esny on July 25. On today’s (Aug 7th) imagery, the ship is leaking a considerable amount of oil into the ocean & the oil slick is drifting northwest to the shore. pic.twitter.com/YZRJ1Cx35t— Maxar Technologies (@Maxar) August 7, 2020
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.
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My paradise island home of #mauritius just suffered a dreadful oilspill. This is a disaster for our wildlife & environment, for our fragile natural ecosystems & for our economy which relies on tourism. They're asking for donations of hair to help clean up the oil. There's not much I can do, but I can do this. I love my long hair but hair grows... . @vanilla_village in the West is collecting hair & offering free cuts today. I challenge any #mauricien / #mauricienne to join me. (Esp @barefootleila & @sofgrant !!!) I also heard that you can go lend a hand with cleanup at Pte Desiny. . #savemauritiusreef #wakashio #ilemaurice
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.
Fellow warden currently on the mainland sent this through. Free haircuts at the local mall to collect hair to help absorb some of the #oilspill in #mauritius.— Bethan Govier (@Bethan_Govier) August 8, 2020
The official response may have been severely lacking but the community are coming together and it’s fantastic. pic.twitter.com/mBXNQ5PjDE
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.
The #oilspill is devastating but I want to honour the community mobilisation at the Mahebourg waterfront today (to make containment booms) and every other Mauritian mobilising resources behind the scenes. Hats off et Merci. #Mauritius #Wakashio pic.twitter.com/4nJfrVn1Zm— Fabiola Monty (@LFabiolaMonty) August 7, 2020
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.
Absolutely shattered by the ecological crisis faced by Mauritius. These pictures of the oil spill, wrecking our most beautiful lagoons, were taken by my friend Eric Villars on his flight to Rodrigues this morning. #mauritius #oilspill #wakashio #bluebay #coralreefs #marinepark pic.twitter.com/DRTLthCZw1— Priya Hein (@PriyaHein) August 7, 2020
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.