While the images of cleaner air and waterways that circulated social media in the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic were hopeful, reality has now struck. Wildfires, hurricanes, and rising water levels in the past few months show the world that we cannot rely on the pandemic to solve the climate change and environmental problems that face us now and in the future. 

One of the most difficult human-created environmental disasters to resolve is oil spills, and the past few months have seen two major incidents on opposite sides of the world. 

In Mauritius and Ecuador, the fallout from oil spills in August and April respectively, have ramped up this week.

Peaceful demonstrations in Mauritius this week have criticized the government’s handling of the disastrous 1000 ton spill caused by a Japanese owned tanker running aground on a coral reef off the coast. The protests were catalyzed by the controversial decision to tow a large portion of the ship into deeper water and deliberately sink it as well as the nearly forty dolphins and whales that have been found beached near the spill. 

Organizers of the demonstrations have stated their concerns about the lack of transparency of the investigations into the spill and the beached marine mammals. Critics also want answers to why the ship sat on the reef for almost two weeks after running aground without any action taken before the major leak. As clean-up efforts continue many are worried about how the local economy, which relies heavily on tourism and fisheries, will recover. 

This week also marked an important development in the aftermath of the oil spill into the rivers of the Ecuadorian Amazon. The April incident was followed by a lawsuit against the Ecuadorian government for the spill that was preventable, and for the lack of support affected communities received in its wake. 

That lawsuit was officially dismissed by the court this week causing widespread anger and further mistrust of the country’s justice system. It also reinvigorates questions surrounding the preventability of the spill, since experts had warned of erosion caused by the controversial Coca-Codo Sinclair Dam and the high risk of seismic activity in the locations of the ruptured pipelines. 

The spill has contaminated the Coca and Napo rivers and much of the soil that surrounds them. This has left Indigenous communities, already dealing with the effects of COVID-19, without clean water or food sources for months and with very little support from the government. 

In Ecuador and Mauritius, it is evident from the aftermath that the causes of these spills were not by chance. Political, social, and environmental factors all combine to create this type of disaster, and it begs the question: will we finally learn from this?

To support clean up efforts and donate to the Mauritian Wildlife Foundation: https://www.mauritian-wildlife.org/donate 

To learn more about issues facing Ecuadorian Amazon communities and how to take action: https://www.amazonfrontlines.org/