I followed with great sadness how our institutions failed in managing the catastrophic oil spill of MV Wakashio, resulting in severe damage to our marine and coastal environment to the detriment of those whose livelihood depend on it. This has drawn international blame on us and will certainly not do us any good in future. But whereas facts cannot be denied, it is not my object to remain with the past. What has happened cannot be undone but must be now be managed with maximum efficiency.
I am convinced that even with our present failings, we are capable of putting a good show in monitoring and managing the damages incurred. I am also convinced that the same goodwill shown by volunteers on site is present among all citizens, be it in the private or the public sector. What is direly required is far-sighted leadership, not just for now but also for the 4 more years that this government has to put our country back on the right track. I believe that this is possible.
As a marine biologist – specialized in fisheries biology – I first want to say that during my five years working in the research section of the ministry of fisheries, none of my projects on site could have progressed without the support and experience of local fishermen, skippers, divers and the observations of people living in the locality. My theoretical knowledge was lame without their years of experience. Many such persons have already voluntarily risked and damaged their working material in way of boats and engines as well as their health in attempting to contain this oil spill and save their environment and livelihood. They are capable of much more.
Regular sampling and analysing of soil, water, algae and fauna at strategic times (low and high tides) at various sites such as our mangroves would be the basic requirement to assess the damages, make predictions and take decisions accordingly. If this is already being done, I can only congratulate our decision makers and institutions. But if not, since we have so many experts at the moment to help in this matter, I urge that we take advantage of their know how to organize such monitoring and that our local citizens be included in the collection of samples. Seeing the large number of volunteers in the past weeks, I doubt if payment would be claimed for such a service.
All they need are the containers and friendly instructions when and how to proceed. The relevant sites are where they live and easy to access, even beyond or before office hours. This is a considerable advantage to be seriously taken into account. Furthermore, reports on such projects would be of use in the future, not only for us but for the entire region. We would be enhancing our image on the international level.
Finally, I wish to insist that I am making suggestions in good faith, without any political agenda or other vested interests. In the same spirit, I was among the volunteers to help in sewing up booms as well as cleaning up and would further offer my help wherever possible. My view is that this no time to wallow in criticism or pettiness but for collaboration as citizens of this country. And the spontaneous and voluntary movement after the oil spill prove that we can do that.