Solomon reefs damaged irreparably from latest bauxite spill

The coral reefs off Rennell Island in the Solomon Islands are likely to be permanently damaged from the latest shipping environmental catastrophe to hit the area.

With authorities still assessing the scale of the environmental impact from the bunker spill in February of the Solomon Trader bulk carrier, the same remote bay in the Solomon Islands was struck by another dire marine casualty on July 1. The water around Kangava Bay on Rennell Island remains a rusty brown colour nine days on after 5,000 tonnes of bauxite fell into the sea from a barge belonging to Bintan Mining Solomon Islands – the third and largest barge spill in thew same bay this year.

The accidents have all taken place very close to the world’s largest raised coral reef, a UNESCO World Heritage site.

“That sort of spill would be impossible to clean up given the economic situation in the Solomon Islands,” Chris Bone, managing director of the NGO, OceansWatch, told Splash.

To clean up, Bone said massive pumps would be needed to suck all the sediments off the reefs then filter out all the bauxite and put it back on land. Many chemicals will have dissolved into the water column that is now impossible to remove.

“If the sediment is thick enough all the reefs will die, as they survive by photosynthesis and the sediment will block the sunlight,” Bone said. This will impact the livelihoods of locals who rely on fishing.

The reefs are already stressed by bleaching due to raised sea temperatures, acidification due to raised levels of CO2 in the air and by the oil spill from the Solomon Trader earlier this year.

The Solomon Trader became this year’s most high profile dry bulk casualty when it ran aground in the same bay five months ago, leaking around 80 tonnes of bunker fuel.

The Asian mining company on Rennell Island has declined to comment on this latest accident and what it is planning to do to clean the bay up.


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