Toxic Shipwreck in Madagascar Kills Whales, Makes Locals Sick

toxic shipwreck madagascar photo

The Gulser Ana going down. Photo via Australia

A ship carrying toxic waste sunk off the coast of Madagascar, and thousands of tons of refuse were emptied into the rich marine ecosystem. The wreck has had devastating effects on the sea life and the health of people who live inland--causing whales to mysteriously beach in greater numbers, and afflicting the locals with grave respiratory and skin diseases.

The Gulser Ana, a Turkish shipping vessel, ran aground in the southernmost point of Madagascar. It then slowly leaked its load--39,000 tons of raw phosphates, 568 tons of fuel, and 66 tons of diesel--into the Indian Ocean.

It just so happened that the spot where the accident occurred was a whale reproduction and migratory corridor zone, according to the World Wide Fund for Nature. To make maters worse, the accident happened in the smack dab middle of mating season, and the spill was making people ill as well.

Calling the spill an 'ecological disaster', WWF headed down to compile a report on the consequences of the spill--and the results aren't pretty. From the report:

. . . nine whales beached in September alone, and some beach stretches seem to be real death zones, the report found. Villagers suffer from diseases such as respiratory problems, skin diseases and diarrhea.
The report also found that there are oil clumps covering 30 kilometers of beach, and that 20,000 people have been affected by the spill, whether by illness or a loss of livelihood. Fishing has been banned, due to the toxicity of the waters, and many of the local inhabitants depended on fishing for income. Still worse, those working on cleaning up the spill are woefully unprepared--they're doing so without wearing any sort of gear to protect them from the toxic waste, and are using thin plastic bags that burst easily.


Whale killed by Gulsner Ana spill. Photo via HLN

As for the whales, they're still in danger too:

"Like human beings, whales suffer from respiratory problems due to diesel odour. They come to the surface from time to time to breathe, so if they happen to surface through an oil film, this might result in the animal's death," Yvette Razafindrakoto, WCS [Wildlife Conservation Society] marine mammal specialist said.

This is a true tragedy that's befallen Madagascar--let's hope for swift and effective aid to the cleanup efforts.

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