Ina surprise but desperate move to mop up oil leaking from a grounded Japanese ship Mauritians are making floating booms of human hair and leaves in a round-the-clock battle to save their beaches and source of livelihood.
Mauritius has declared a state of emergency and former colonial ruler France has sent aid in what environmental group Greenpeace said could be a major ecological crisis.
According to Reuters, environmental activists and volunteers in their thousands spent the entire weekend helping clean black sludge from mangrove swamps. They were making booms to float on the sea out of sugar cane leaves, plastic bottles and hair that people were voluntarily cutting off.
Researchers state that Hair absorbs oil exclusively so a big campaign has been on the ground around the island for people to cut and donate their hairs. Videos online show volunteers sewing leaves and hair into nets to float on the surface and corral the oil until it can be sucked up by hoses.
Diving centres, fishermen and others have all joined in the cleanup effort, with some providing sandwiches, guesthouses offering free accommodation to volunteers and hair salons offering discounts to those donating hair.
The oil spill is near the Blue Bay Marine Park, known for its spectacular corals and myriad fish species. Mauritius relies on tourism as a major contributor to its economy.
At least 1,500 tonnes of oil is estimated to have leaked, with 500 tonnes salvaged and some 2,000 tonnes remaining.