Right from the advent of industrialisation, human activities have always impacted the environment. Upto what extent the damage caused is justifiable is debatable. There are sudden impacts such as nuclear radiations and there are slow impacts such as global warming. One such human activity which is currently taking a toll on our marine and coastal ecosystems is Chennai Oil Spills.
What is an Oil spill and how it happened?
On January 28th, two vessels collided with each other near Ennore port. One vessel which was carrying oil suffered damage leading to leakage of oil into sea. The escape of oil into waterbody is called oil spill. Due to the prevailing currents, oil spread all the way till Vettuvankeni on the coast down south which is about 45km from Ennore port.
What is the impact ?
Oil spill affects both the coast and sea. Following the spill, patches of dark oily sludge were reported at seafronts and beaches. A thin layer of oil floated on the surface of sea which might prevent dissolving of oxygen into water affecting the marine life. Several dead fishes and the endangered Olive Ridley turtles were washed ashore. Fishermen’s livelihood was affected as the fish sales went down fearing fish contaminated with oil. Overall, the oil spill has badly affected marine life and the fisherfolk.
The first step is to contain the spill physically so that it doesn’t spread. For this booms such as floating tyre tubes must be used to barricade the oil. The first option is physical removal, which can be done using vacuum suckers.
The second option is to use the chemical dispersants. Most chemical dispersants are toxic and there are international regulations on their usage. Dispersants reduce the surface tension of the oil which makes it to dilute or fall on the seabed.
In the oil contaminated beaches,the sand has to be removed, put on a HDPE liner and treated with bacteria.
The sea contains bacteria that can naturally degrade oil, but they are slow. Scientists at TERI, Delhi have selected five strains of bacteria, formulated and patented a product called Oil Zapper which can act faster for decomposing oil both on land and water. Oilzapper was used during Mumbai oil spills in 2010.
What is going on in Chennai ?
Kamarajar port claimed that they had stationed containment boom after the incident. But in spite of this, oil spreaded. First super suckers were employed to remove oil, but they were not effective. Then they began removing the oil manually using buckets. The Indian Coast Guard coordinated the process jointly with personnel from Kamarajar port, Chennai port, Greater Chennai Corporation, state government, Indian Oil Corporation Limited, NGOs volunteers and fishermen.
ICGS Varad, the ship of Coast Guard did the spill assessment and oil neutralisation. Helicopters had been used to spray oil dispersant chemicals. Since the beginning of the clean-up, 121 tonnes of oil sludge, 65 tonnes of oil-sand mix and 72,000 litres of oil-water mix had been removed, said a press release from the Coast Guard on 4th February.
The bioremediation of oil sludge collected would be done at Kamarajar Port Ltd. A 2000 sq.m area pit has been dug and high-density polyethylene sheets have been laid inside it. Layers of earth, sand, sludge and contaminated soil would be laid, explains the statements given to press. Bio inoculum like Pseudomonas aeruginosa and nutrients provided by IOCL would be used to treat the sludge.
Regulations and plans
Oil spills are not new to the subcontinent. In 2010, there was an oil spill near Mumbai and in 2015, there was an oil spill in Bangladesh. The problem is that we are still not prepared to tackle such situations immediately. The National Oil Spill- Disaster Contingency Plan was adopted in 1996. The states has to prepare a state contingency plan, but there is no such plan for Tamil Nadu so far. In the times of spills, there is no coordination between the state maritime board, disaster response force and port authorities to contain the it immediately. We have to wait and see what other impacts it has on our environment and economy.
Seas and oceans are a precious treasure for life on earth. According to ‘The Global Carbon Budget 1959-2011’ published by ESSDD, 26% of all carbon emitted as CO2 over the decade 2002-2011 was absorbed by oceans. Oceans are the largest sinks of carbon stored in the form of algae, vegetation and coral under the sea. Ocean houses an array of flora and fauna that provide their ecosystem services. Apart from this, oceans facilitates trade and commerce, supports livelihoods of fishermen and supplies water. But as a gratitude to all these, what human does is, dumping of waste into ocean.