25.Protecting the Ocean

On the 28th January 2017 two oil cargo ships collided off the Ennore Coast near Chennai, India and poured tonnes of oil into the ocean. The waves and the southern current carried it 34 kms up to Vettuvankeni in the South. What was great, was that a large number of students and volunteers joined the official clean up operations. Sadly, the sludge was being removed in buckets. The volunteers often suffered burns with no proper safety equipment or clothing. But the spirit was commendable.

Over 70 tonnes of heavy black sludge was removed from the ocean. Considering that when MT BW Maple and MT Dawn Kanchipuram, collided one of the ships carried 32813 tonnes of oil, we in Chennai, were lucky.

Health camps were conducted to provide treatment to those involved in cleaning operations. Over 60 doctors stood by to treat breathlessness and skin ailments. Nineteen helicopter sorties to spray oil dispersant chemical were undertaken.

Sale of fish dropped 50% due to fears about pollution. In Indian ports, only 50% of pollution response equipment is funded by the centre. The training and acquisition of equipment to handle such accidents appears inadequate. The sludge mixed with sand has affected our world famous beaches. The ecological challenge is obvious. Dead turtles are being washed up. Fish eggs and eggs of other marine creatures are sure to be damaged. Birds that eat the dead creatures will surely be affected as will the people.

Of course this is insignificant when compared to the Gulf Oil spill from Discoverer Enterprise. It is still the largest accidental spill in world history. It resulted from a blow out in a BP oil rig. Oil flowed at the rate of 25 million gallons of oil a day for 87 days! 3.19 million barrels of oil leaked out. It damaged 57 miles of Gulf shore line and the birds and marine life destroyed cannot be estimated. Experts say this could have devastated the coast for years to come. Deep sea corals which live for centuries were damaged and eco system deep in the ocean were destroyed. The oil dispersant caused some more damage. Pelicans were covered with black oil. Fish floated belly up. Over 200 dolphins died that year and for at least 9 years afterwards.

Kemp’s ridley sea turtles nests became far less. Small sea birds could not fly and dive for food with their wings encrusted with oil. Shrimp fisheries were closed for the year. Heart defects were noticed in the larvae of blue tuna fish. Deformed wildlife was found.

The ocean belongs to mankind. It is our earth’s lung and needs to be protected. The smallest country can affect the largest in this arena. So let us save our oceans.

Rekha Shetty

Water Warrior