From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :
Prelims level : Mauritius oil spill
Mains level : Chemical disasters these days
A Japanese ship recently struck a coral reef resulting in an oil spill of over 1,000 tonnes into the Indian Ocean near Mauritius.
Try this PYQ:
Q.Recently, “oil zapper’’ was in the news. What is it? (CSP 2011)
(a) It is an eco-friendly technology for the remediation of oily sludge and oil spills.
(b) It is the latest technology developed for undersea oil exploration.
(c) It is a genetically engineered high biofuel-yielding maize variety.
(d) It is the latest technology to control the accidentally caused flames from oil wells.
What caused the Mauritius oil spill?
- A Japanese vessel struck a coral reef resulting in an oil spill of over 1,000 tonnes into the Indian Ocean.
- The ship was carrying an estimated 4,000 tonnes of oil.
- The accident had taken place near two environmentally protected marine ecosystems and the Blue Bay Marine Park Reserve, which is a wetland of international importance.
How dangerous are oil spills?
- Oil spills affect marine life by exposing them to harsh elements and destroying their sources of food and habitat.
- Further, both birds and mammals can die from hypothermia as a result of oil spills.
- For instance, oil destroys the insulating ability of fur-bearing mammals, such as sea otters.
- It also decreases the water repellency of birds’ feathers, without which they lose their ability to repel cold water.
Some major incidents
- Some of the world’s largest oil spills include the Persian Gulf War oil spill of 1991 when more than 380 million gallons of oil was poured into the northern Persian Gulf by Iraq’s forces.
- The 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is also considered to be among the largest known accidental oil spills in history.
- Starting April 20, 2010, over 4 million barrels of oil flowed over a period of 87 days into the Gulf of Mexico.
How is the oil spill cleaned?
- There are a few ways to clean up oil spills including skimming, in situ burning and by releasing chemical dispersants.
- Skimming involves removing oil from the sea surface before it is able to reach the sensitive areas along the coastline.
- In situ burning means burning a particular patch of oil after it has concentrated in one area.
- Releasing chemical dispersants helps break down oil into smaller droplets, making it easier for microbes to consume, and further break it down into less harmful compounds.
- Natural actions in aquatic environments such as weathering, evaporation, emulsification, biodegradation and oxidation can also accelerate the recovery of an affected area. But these occur differently in freshwater and marine environments.