At least 24 dead dolphins have washed up on the shores of Mauritius, near the site of an oil spill caused by a ship that struck coral reef last month.
Environmental workers and officials were devastated to discover 17 carcasses washed up on a beach on the Indian Ocean island. The next day, seven more were found in a state of decomposition, while images taken by Greenpeace showed one mammal’s corroded mouth coated in what appears to be oil.
Other dolphins were found stranded on shore and appeared seriously ill, said environmental consultant Sunil Dowarkasing, who believes they were killed by the oil leaked into the sea or toxic chemicals which were on the bow of the sinking ship.
Dowarkasing said: ‘This is a terrible day. We are seeing these dolphins swim up to the shore in distress and then die. We have never seen deaths of these very intelligent marine mammals like this. Never.’
The Japanese-owned MV Wakashio ship ran aground on July 25 and began to spill oil about a week later into the well-preserved turquoise waters near the eastern coast of Mauritius.
In total, more than 1,000 tonnes of fuel poured into the sea, before the ship was scuttled Monday.
Experts believe more dolphins may have died out at sea and tests will be done to determine the cause of death of those found on shore.
Dowarkasing said: ‘We’ve been worried about this. The oil spill and sinking of the bow are ruining what had been the best-preserved area of our island.
‘I think there are two possibilities: Either they died from tons of fuel spilled in the sea, or they were poisoned by the toxic materials on the bow of the ship that was sunk offshore.’
The full impact of the ecological disaster is still unfolding but experts warned it could impact the island and its tourism-dependent economy for decades.
Greenpeace said the spill will have devastating long-term effects on whales, turtles, seabirds and much of the marine life in the area.
Greenpeace Africa’s senior climate and energy campaign manager, Happy Khambule, said: ‘This is a deeply sad and alarming day for the people of Mauritius and for its singular biodiversity.’
The organisation has now called on the government to launch an ‘urgent investigation to determine the cause of the deaths and any ties to the Wakashio oil spill’.
Greenpeace Africa and Greenpeace Japan joined Mauritian human rights organisation, Dis Moi, in a letter to the government on Monday calling for greater transparency and accountability in its handling of the crisis.
Co-director of Dis Moi, Vijay Naraidoo, said: ‘The ocean is part of who we are. The whole country including coastal communities depend on its health.’
The Japanese vessel’s hull cracked after being pounded by waves for days and on August 6 it began leaking fuel into the waters of the Mahebourg Lagoon.
It spilled into a protected wetlands area, mangroves and a small island that was a bird and wildlife sanctuary.
The ship later broke in two and the bow, the smaller of the two pieces, was towed out to sea and sunk.
The ship’s captain and first officer have been charged with ‘endangering safe navigation.’ It’s not yet clear why the ship strayed miles off course.
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