▶ Watch Video: Oil spill prompts environmental state of emergency in Mauritius

At least 27 dead dolphins have washed ashore on the island of Mauritius in the aftermath of a massive oil spill from a Japanese ship. The die-off has not yet been directly linked to the spill, and officials are still investigating the causes of death, Reuters reports

The dolphins mysteriously washed ashore this week, prompting environmentalists to push officials to determine if the spill was the cause of death. Dead eels, crabs and seabirds were also found after the spill. 

“An urgent investigation is needed to determine the cause of the strandings and if they are linked to the spill,” Greenpeace Africa said in a statement Wednesday. 

Officials said that preliminary tests on two dolphins revealed no traces of oil. 

“The preliminary results show that the animals did not have trace of hydrocarbon in their respiratory system, nor in their skin, throat or stomach,” according to an autopsy report cited by Reuters.

An unidentified man looks at the carcass of a dolphin that died and was washed up on shore at the Grand Sable, Mauritius, on August 26, 2020. 

STRINGER / REUTERS

Both of the dolphins that veterinarians have examined were found to have injuries on their bodies.

On July 25, the MV Wakashio, owned by Nagashiki Shipping, spilled 1,000 tons of its 4,000-ton cargo of oil into the sea along the coastline of Mauritius, including into a protected wetlands area. Activists said the spill threatened 35 years of restoration work by the Mauritian Wildlife Foundation that re-introduced many endangered species to the area. 

“This is a deeply sad and alarming day for the people of Mauritius and for its singular biodiversity, itself known and appreciated by the worldwide biodiversity community,” said Happy Khambule, Greenpeace Africa Senior Climate and Energy Campaign Manager. “Greenpeace appeals to the authorities to carry out a swift, transparent and public autopsy on the bodies collected.”

Thousands of locals sprang into action after the spill, working quickly to remove wildlife and plant life from the affected area. But scientists and activists worry that the spill will have an effect on local wildlife for years to come.

“We have planted about 200,000 indigenous trees to restore the coastal forest,” Jean Hugue Gardenne of the Mauritian Wildlife Foundation told The Associated Press. “We re-introduced endangered birds, including the pink pigeon, the olive white-eye and the critically endangered Mauritius fody to the Isle aux Aigrettes. Now all this is threatened as the oil is seeping into the soil and the coral reefs.”

A carcass of a dolphin that died and was washed up on shore is seen at the Grand Sable
A carcass of a dolphin that died and was washed up on shore is seen at the Grand Sable, Mauritius, on August 26, 2020.

STRINGER / REUTERS

Greenpeace Africa warned that “thousands” of species are “at risk of drowning in a sea of pollution, with dire consequences for Mauritius’s economy, food security and health.”

Activists believe the deaths have been caused either by the spill itself, or the subsequent sinking of the vessel. Authorities deliberately sunk a portion of the ship after it split in two. 

“The decision to dump the forward section of the MV Wakashio is of grave concern for experts considering the potential for additional severe environmental impacts beyond the harm already done,” Greenpeace Africa said.

The environmental organization also called on the companies involved to launch an independent public investigation of the disaster and abandon the waters in the surrounding area “to ensure protection of the island.” 

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