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Solomon Islands’ Coral Ecosystems Threatened by Oil Spill and Extensive Flooding

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The world’s largest raised coral atoll, in Solomon islands, is faced with an ecological disaster since February 4th, when the ship MV Solomon Trader got wedged on a reef due to a cyclone on its way to collect a load of bauxite.

The eastern half of Rennell Island is the first natural reserve to be included in UNESCO’s World Heritage List in 1998 and its global ecological significance was already under threat due to mining and lodging activity. Now, for the past few weeks approximately 75 tonnes of oil have leaked into the marine sanctuary from the bulk carrier, which has some 600 tonnes of oil on board.

The currents are already spreading the spill towards the neighbouring island of Bellona, while questions arise as to why the Bintan Mining Corporation bauxite miner continued loading bauxite despite the cyclone warnings.

The company claim they have no responsibility and the government was unable to cope with the situation, so pollution mitigation experts and equipment have been sent from Australia and New Zealand. Containing the spill is not easy, and moving the ship may aggravate the situation by allowing leakage of more oil.

Image credit: Australian High Commission in Solomon Islands – DFAT

The disaster took place only a month after extensive flooding in southern Queensland posed pressure on another World Heritage Site, the Great Barrier Reef. The sediment-rich, nutrient-rich and pesticide-polluted river water created a huge plume that persisted for weeks. Shallow-water corals were depleted of sunlight, are adversely impacted by low salinity waters and face risk of suffocation, while algal blooms may support the growth of species feeding on corals and the overall resilience of the reef to bleaching declines.

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