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Milano Ocean Week: Why has this year been critical for Indian Ocean islands?

The situation requires governmental implications that have the capacity to involve, starting from resolution and adaptation to environmental disasters

What is happening in the Indian Ocean?

The Indian Ocean is warming quickly. A current that comes from Indonesia, the Pacific Ocean, influences this temperature. Shaama Sandooyea is a marine biologist and activist. She explains that since 2002, the temperatures have increased a lot for this reason. 

The first seven hundred meters of water have increased in heat a lot, especially compared to previous periods. In particular now, the presence of La Niña, makes the situation worse. It is an oceanic and atmospheric phenomenon during which the sea surface temperature decreases. 

This is present in the eastern equatorial part of the central Pacific Ocean. It can become three to five celsius degrees lower than normal. The warm ocean surface temperature favors the formation of cyclones, active clouds and rainfalls. 

«It is not just rainfalls, but also heatwaves. Temperature arrives at thirty-five degrees with a humidity of eighty to ninety percent. Another thing is there is also a lot of rain at the moment. So every week there are rainfall warnings and students cannot go to school. People cannot go outside or to work». 

Damages reported on the islands – Seychelles, Mauritius, Madagascar

In the described area there are different islands: Seychelles, Mauritius, Madagascar, and others. Destructive activities characterize these places. The exploitation of resources represents one side of the problem. Sandooyea explains there are also pirate phenomena. 

There are security teams and militaries on the islands because the places are not safe to live in. Cyclones or flooding report even greater damage in a situation that has political, social, and environmental issues. 

«In the last period, we have had trouble trying to make islands more resilient. It is causing and leading to food security problems. Because we don’t have any ocean protection mechanism and islands are not staying together and trying to understand and act», explains the biologist

She continues saying that in the Southwest of the Indian Ocean, some scientists have been investigating and modeling coral reef predictions. They found that by 2040, seventy-five to ninety percent of corals in the southeast region will be bleached. According to these studies, Madagascar will be the most affected among the islands. In the South, there are a lot of droughts, so they have famine, and on the Eastside, there are cyclones. 

From marine biology to activism campaign

The marine biologist explains that she became an activist in the same moment she decided to go to university. Focusing on the analysis of the marine environment, the climate change catastrophe becomes clear. Sandooyea comes from one of those affected islands. Seeing the damage done to the ecosystem by the rise in temperatures is one of the issues she mentions. This is in particular for coral reefs and around Mauritius. 

These changes also permit invasive species to appear in the environment, damaging and eating some living corals. «Our main job is to preserve what we have. It is really important to keep the ecosystems intact. So, the biodiversity keeps growing and flourishing in the coastal regions», explains Sandooyea. Biodiversity is important in this area. Not only for marine area and life, but for climate as well because it is capable of storing carbon. 

Greenpeace expedition in the Indian Ocean, the importance of the Saya de Malha

In 2021, a Greenpeace expedition focused on the Saya de Malha Bank. This area is part of the Mascarene Plateau and is located between Mauritius and Seychelles in the Indian Ocean. Its importance, Greenpeace and the biologist explain, comes from being the largest seagrass meadow in the world. It is also one of the largest carbon sinks in the high seas. 

This expedition aimed to improve understanding of the region’s fauna and biodiversity, to promote the protection of this area. Sandooyea was the first activist to conduct an underwater protest in the area described above. She held a card with the writing Youth Strike For Climate. Recalling the meaning of participating in this expedition, the biologist affirms. «Greenpeace allowed us to use their platform to voice out about what is happening in the Indian Ocean and why we need Ocean protection there»

Also, scientists know Saya de Malha as rich in terms of biodiversity. However, research in the location has yet to be developed, even if there are numerous new marine specimens and mechanisms. The big problem for the people living there, she highlights, is the fact there is not a lot of land. The territory is in fact characterized by a high presence of water. The ocean is one of the fundamental resources in terms of the local economy. 

underwater shot taken by WiseOceans lampoon magazine
underwater shot taken by WiseOceans

Overexploitation of ocean resources

Even if it is correct to affirm that oceans are a means of livelihood for populations, groups do exploit them. «The Indian Ocean is overexploited. It is a really strategic place for bigger countries like France, UK, India, China. So, they all come and try to influence the politics of the area. They have agreements with the local government to exploit natural resources, while citizens that stay there do not get anything», explains Sandooyea. 

Extinction is a possibility, with many endangered, such as four species of the June beetle. Additionally, vessels that come from other countries threaten the ocean. Organizations need to implement ocean protection actions. They have to be tailor-made for specific situations and studied according to what the biodiversity needs. 

It is important to include all the stakeholders behind it. «When we talk about Ocean protection in the high seas, we also talk about lakes in the area. What is more important: the planet or the profits of the companies», she continues. Fishing in the Indian Ocean is not aimed to feed the local population, but other countries. 

Social consequences are also an issue

The natural consequences fall back and affect citizens without measure. The large quantities of water coming from the rains, besides limiting their daily life, encourage flooding. «We are witnessing a rapid change in the climate. We cannot just think about protecting our coastal region or investing in nature-based solutions. The damages of climate change are already having a social and economic impact», says Sandooyea. 

For example, it threatens food security. This is true for all islands.  Improvised heat waves, meaning the spread of different types of mosquitoes, can affect people’s conditions. These can carry several diseases, such as malaria, but also others, explains the biologist. 

«We also have trouble with water resources. We cannot catch and collect the amount of water that is falling like in flash floods. The water is wasted and then a dry season happens, and we can stay for months without having water», Sandooyea specifies. Another problem is that of land erosion. As there is not much land, people from coastal areas will have to relocate due to rising water.

Related environmental topics

The biologist explains that territories are experiencing a lot of destruction. This is because they lost ninety-eight percent of their forests. Right now, approximately twenty-five percent of land is covered in forests. However, only two percent of them are native and in good conditions, the rest are invasive species. 

These are not able to work and react in proper ways in response to natural events such as rainfalls. The problem is not just about trees falling, but also the dispersion of soil that often contains harmful substances. Nutrients can end up polluting the lagoon. Corals need clear water to survive and to be able to make photosynthesis, she continues. 

When the soil arrives in the water, it cannot do that. «Another thing to be mentioned about the Indian Ocean is that it is not just about cyclones. It is also about the sea conditions getting corrupt because of climate change and the active clouds. And the sea has been really exploited by fishing vessels that now find themselves in difficulty and cannot navigate properly. They are more likely to crash on the reefs, and the vessels also have oil, heavy metals. It is an additional cost for the environment», the biologist highlights. 

Why are governmental institution actions required?

Sandooyea explains how media amplification from the Greenpeace expedition helped her and other activists make the Indian Ocean situation known. Also, on the institution’s side, the Mauritian Parliament gave a certain attention to the situation. «There was a member of the opposition that brought our position. They were explaining the Greenpeace expedition and the demand for climate action and Ocean protection», says the biologist. 

The minister of Ocean Economic was starting to work in that direction when the Covid-19 pandemic hit. The government is influenced by economic lobbies when it comes to petroleum issues. It is difficult to change this mindset. Not only do citizens need to be prepared and become resilient, but the disaster is happening now. 

«There are so many things that individual people can do. But, when you compare these actions to the global scale of companies polluting and the ten percent of the worlds’ richest people polluting, the single actions are not going to balance out this», the biologist points out. 

Shaama Sandooyea

Born in 1997,  Shaama Sandooyea is a native of Mauritius who studied to become a marine biologist. From her experience came the need to become a climate activist. Participating in a Greenpeace expedition, she held the world’s first underwater climate strike.

Chiara Narciso

The writer does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article.

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check and buy on Prototipo Store
item collections in limited edition
crafted according to our editorial search

Hemp / made in Italy
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Hemp production in Italy
as hemp is the one and only
natural vegetal fiber sourceable in the country
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