How Locals In One Town United To Fight An Oil Spill With Their Own Hair

Mahebourge is a bustling trade down on the southeast coast of Mauritius, an island nation in the Indian Ocean. On July 25, 2020, MV Wakashio, a Japanese-owned cargo ship heading to Brazil, ran aground on a coral reef just off the southeast coast. Two weeks later, oil began to leak from the wrecked ship, heading for Mahebourge. It turned out to be the worst ecological disaster in the history of the island. When environmentalists, fishers, and others who make their living from the sea called for help from the government, they were met with silence. That’s when they decided to take matters into their own hands. To protect the coast from the devastating oil spill, they made booms — temporary floating barriers used to contain oil — from whatever they could find: single-use plastic bottles, fibrous sugar cane waste, and even human hair. For weeks on end, hundreds of Mauritians cut off their hair to add to the growing lengths of handmade booms. As people rushed to donate their hair, barbers volunteered to cut their hair for free. One group of fishermen joined in the fight to prevent the oil from reaching Mahebourge, and within hours the growing team had successfully made and tested an 80-foot boom. The sugarcane and textile industries even provided cane straw and began mass-producing stronger booms. The volunteers sacrificed more than time. The long-term effects of the spill remain unknown, but many of those making or deploying booms reported a range of health problems. Entire ecosystems in wetlands, coastal mangrove forests, and the Blue Bay Marine Reserve have also suffered, though the full toll of the event is not yet clear. Yet, the people of Mahebourge are proud of the way they came together and did everything they could to save their island.