How Mauritians in Canada are trying to help their island community recover from massive oil spill


‘I know for sure this is going to be impacting the economy and the environment,’ one resident says

By Desmond Brown – CBC News 

Joy Nursiah — a Canadian who was born in Mauritius — remembers the devastation she felt when she saw the usually stunning turquoise waters of her homeland stained black and brown.

In late July, a Japanese-owned ship ran aground off Mauritius and began leaking oil. Soon, the oil spill had become so large it was visible from space.

Volunteers work to clean up an oil spill after a Japanese ship spilled an estimated 1,000 tonnes of its 4,000 tonnes of oil into the sea, fouling the coastline of Mauritius, including a protected wetlands area. (Submitted by Joy Nursiah)

“I feel sad for my country,” Nursiah the Mississauga resident told CBC News.

“I know for sure this is going to be impacting the economy and the environment and we highly depend on the Mauritian environment for tourism, which is our biggest export.”

Nursiah no longer lives in Mauritius, but she knew she had to do something to help.

So she decided to collaborate with other Mauritians in the GTA to raise funds to help with the huge clean-up effort and help restore the biodiversity hotspot where more than 1,000 tonnes of fuel have leaked.

Nursiah launched a Facbook group called WAKASHIO-Oil Spill-Canada, which she says it is working with non-profits including EcoSud, Sovlanatir and Lagon Blue.

The hope is to raise enough funds to purchase bio microorganisms that would help with breaking down oil in areas where manual clean-up is impossible.

“We’re hoping to get funding as well for a coral reef plantation and conservation,” Nursiah said. 

“We’re currently trying to [communicate] with NGOs [in Mauritius] to find out what supplies they need the most and we’re hosting fundraisers for PPEs, for waterproof full body suits and masks,” Nursiah said, adding volunteers doing clean-up are being exposed to toxic crude-oil.

“The focus is moving more towards clean-up around the animals and the wild life — more like replanting [and] conservation,” Nursiah explained.

Mauritian waters are extraordinarily rich in biodiversity, thanks to an abundance of coral reefs, seagrasses and mangroves.

According to the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity, the island’s marine environment is home to 1,700 species including around 800 types of fish, 17 kinds of marine mammals and two species of turtles.

Mauritians uniting across Canada to help

Like Nursiah, Pamela Pakium, president of the Ottawa chapter of the Canada Mauritius Cultural Association, has also been mobilizing fundraisers.

Pakium said she is reaching out to CMCAs in each province to consolidate their efforts.

Initially, they were hoping to purchase a skimmer, but they have since been advised it’s no longer needed. Instead they’re looking at a longer-term project focused on preserving marine life.

Pakium said various Mauritius-based NGOs will be asked to submit a technical sheet detailing the project plan.

“We are going to choose three different universities here in Canada to help us vet which projects we should associate with,” she said.

“The three different universities have their own marine biology programs, so the professors would be able to help us assess the technicality of the project and the viability of each and every project.

Then, she said, the Mauritian community in Canada will be able to vote on the three projects.

“And whichever wins that competition we are going to put the funding towards that,” Pakium said.

‘Tourism is one of the pillars of our economy’

Many Mauritians, including fishermen, need the ocean for daily living, Pakium says.

Beyond that, she points to the importance of tourism to the Mauritian economy.

“Tourism is one of the pillars of our economy, so obviously if we are not able to get the marine life back, tourism obviously is going to decrease,” she told CBC News.

“The fishermen won’t be able to have a living and the population in itself will be very sad and very depressed. For a Mauritian, going to the beach every weekend is an activity or a hobby, so they look forward to that.”

Fundraising in the time of Covid-19

Nursiah says she’s aware it’s a strange time to be trying to raise money given the global pandemic underway.

But given the extraordinary circumstances, she says she had no choice but to try to help.

She’s also hoping others will pitch in once more people become aware of the magnitude of the oil spill.

“Personally, I’m very, very dedicated to this movement, but as I’m fundraising and spreading awareness, I have to take into consideration that not everyone is going to be as involved as I am, especially because it’s a problem directly, personally to me,” she said.

“So it has been difficult, especially since not everyone is aware of what’s happening and with everything happening around in the world.”

Environmental group Greenpeace Africa warned that the consequences of the oil spill may be lasting, with some experts saying the impact is likely to remain for years.

* Published in print edition on 18 August 2020

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