Eye of Fire – Marine disasters


A recent picture of fire on the ocean, called ‘eye of fire’ has been going viral. This picture was captured in the west of Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula on 2nd July 2021. The reason for this fire was a gas leak of an underwater pipeline of the state oil company known as Pemex. The origin of the fire was an underwater pipeline that connects to a platform at the Ku Maloob Zaap oil development. The fire took more than five hours to put out. The company Pemex has a long history of major industrial accidents at their facilities. The fire was put out using Nitrogen by the company workers. Such incidents keep making us wonder about the marine ecosystem and how these activities keep endangering it. Although this was an accident of gas leak from inside, it reminds us of the many oil spills that keep occurring and the effect they have on the marine ecosystem.

Mauritius Oil Spill

On July 25, 2020, a Japanese-operated ship named MV Wakshio hit a coral reef on the coast of Mauritius. The vessel carried 4000 tonnes of crude oil out of which more than 1000 tonnes of oil leaked from the crack in an environmentally sensitive region which polluted the coral reefs, beaches, and lagoons of the island, and an environmental emergency was declared by the Prime Minister of Mauritius. This leak has caused a lot of damage and will continue to for years because of its location being near two environmentally protected marine ecosystems and the Blue Bay Marine Park reserve. These oil spills don’t just affect for the time being till they are cleaned up, the soluble compounds of the oil dissolve in the water and form a layer on the surface of the water which affects the whole marine ecosystem. The toxic hydrocarbons released from the spill bleach the coral reefs which are a very important part of Mauritius, and because of this bleaching, they will eventually die. The oil is less dense than the saltwater so it floats over the water which ends up sticking to the fur and feather of the marine animals and the birds which harms the water-repelling properties of their skin which can then expose them to the cold. Moreover, swallowing the oil can poison them.

The Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill

This spill of 2010 is known as the biggest oil spill in the United States with a spill of more than 200 million gallons of oil. It was found that the spill changed the amount of sediment collection on the bottom of the sea and choked them of oxygen. The reef fish changed after the spill, it absorbed some of the oil-source contaminants. This spill endangered the food chain and more than 400 species. It also severely affected dolphins of the area, there were a lot of stillbirths or baby dolphins with abnormal or underdeveloped lungs and seriously ill adult dolphins with drastically low blood sugar, low weight, and some were found with liver cancer and lung cancer.

Exxon Valdez Oil Spill

This disaster was caused by an oil tanker named Exxon Valdez which spilled 11 million gallons of crude oil into Alaska’s Prince William Sound on March 24, 1989. It killed around 2,50,000 sea birds, 3000 otters, 300 seals, 250 bald eagles, and 22 killer whales. It also played a role in the collapse of salmon and herring fisheries which resulted in fishermen going bankrupt and the economy suffering.

Environmental Effects

Seeing three important cases of Oil spills above we can discuss the major environmental effects of an oil spill:

  • Big impact on temporary animal
  • Fish loss of habitat
  • Affects organism functions like respiration, feeding, and thermo-regulation
  • The cleaning of oil spills ends up damaging the remaining plants.
  • Bleaching of coral reefs
  • Depletes oxygen content in water
  • Failure in the reproductive system of sea animals (as seen in dolphins above)

Responsible Bodies

The MARPOL convention of 1973 covers pollution of the marine environment by ships, it also lists forms of marine pollution caused by harmful substances, oil, sewage, and garbage from ships. The key international bodies that take care of oil spills are International Oil Pollution Compensation Fund (IOPC), and United Nations Environment Program World Conservation Monitoring Center (UNEP-WCMC). Other than these, every country has its government agency to take care of the spills. India has a National Oil Spill Disaster Contingency Plan (NOS-DCP).


With all the use of natural resources, the environment is being affected but adding to that is the leaks of these natural resources which further destroys the environment. The first step for acting on anything is to get to know about the history of incidents and the effect that has had on the environment.