“It will take 45 years for the land to regenerate”:Mauritian Cardinal on Ecological Crisis

A clean-up crew confronting the oil spill in Riviere des Creoles in Mauritius. Thick muck has inundated Mauritius' unspoiled lagoons, marine habitats and beaches.

The head of the Catholic Church in Mauritius has highlighted the impact of the recent ecological crisis occasioned by an oil spill in the Indian Ocean island nation’s waters, noting that the affected land may take over four decades to regenerate.

“Fishing and tourism will resume, but it will take 45 years for the land to regenerate,” the Bishop of Port Louis Diocese, Maurice Cardinal Piat has been quoted as saying in a report published Monday, August 31.

He added, “In the meantime, the tourism and fishing industry will be on hold, and here, many families depend on these sectors. It is really a great test for the country and many families in this part of the island.”

Mauritius, located about 1,930 kilometres off the coast of mainland Africa, has been grappling with the aftermath of the July 25 tragedy that saw a Japanese bulk carrier MV Wakashio hit an underground reef Southeast of Mauritian waters. The ship got stuck, leading to more than 1,000 tonnes of oil to spill into the waters, endangering surrounding marine life.

Following the disaster, Mauritius’ Prime Minister, Pravind Kumar Jugnauth declared a state of environmental emergency on August 6 and appealed for international help as fuel continued to leak from the hull of the ship, which was reportedly stuck in a sensitive area.


In response to the Prime Minister’s appeal, France sent specialists to help the island nation manage the spill, while Britain sent scientists to carry out an impact assessment of the damage the oil spill had caused, and evaluate how to assist in the recovery of the ecosystem.

The international environmental NGO, Greenpeace International, had cautioned against the sinking of the vessel noting that such an action “would risk biodiversity and contaminate the ocean with large quantities of heavy metal toxins, threatening other areas as well, notably the French island of La Réunion.” 

On August 24, Mauritius’ national crisis committee announced that the broken stem of MV Wakashio had been “successfully sunk in the open ocean” to a depth of 3,180 meters, though a smaller section remains stuck on the reef where the shipwreck occurred. 

Irked by the authorities’ handling of the oil spill, which reportedly led to the death of  39 dolphins and whales, thousands of Mauritians on Saturday, August 29 protested on the streets of the country’s capital, Port Louis, calling on the government to resign.

The Mauritian ecological crisis has caught the attention of Pope Francis who, during Angelus prayers at the Vatican’s St. Peter’s Square Sunday, August 30, mentioned the disaster as he made reference to the upcoming World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation to be marked September 1. 

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He welcomed the various initiatives around the world towards marking the day, "Among others the Concert which takes place today in the cathedral of Port-Louis, capital of Mauritius, where unfortunately an environmental disaster occurred recently.”  

“We are very grateful to the Pope for having spoken about the island of Mauritius and the great ecological disaster that occurred in one of the most beautiful lagoons in the south because of the oil spill of the ship that ran aground on the coral reef,” Cardinal Piat has been quoted as saying in the August 31 report

According to the 79-year-old Prelate, “Mauritians have worked very hard, voluntarily and generously to try to clean up the area, but, unfortunately, great damage has been done and the lives of the fishermen living on the coast are totally disrupted because they are all linked to the sea.”

“Also, the life of the people who live on the island is disrupted, because there is a stench that makes them uncomfortable. We are very sad and many people are upset because the ship was allowed to get so close and nobody reacted immediately,” the Cardinal, a member of the Congregation of the Holy Spirit (Spiritans) has said.

In view of the World Day of Prayer for the Care Creation and the subsequent Season of Creation to be marked September 1- October 4, Cardinal Piat noted, “Today, everywhere in the world, we have the great responsibility before God, as the Pope himself says, to listen to the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor.”


He added in reference to Mauritius, “Here, our lagoon, our land, our sea, cried out when there was that oil spill that damaged much of the territory. We realized, on a small scale and in a very difficult way, the damage that failure to respect creation can bring.” 

“We, therefore, make a great appeal, so that wherever we are, we change not only our way of acting, but also our way of thinking and of being attentive to this great gift of God that is our common home,” Cardinal Piat concluded.