For the Second Time in Six Months, a Mining Ship Has Polluted This World-Famous Reef

The first bauxite spill back in February.
Photo: AP

Months after a cargo ship ran aground and began spilling heavy fuel near Rennell Island’s world-famous coral reef, another ship has reportedly spilled more than 5,500 tons of bauxite, the ore mined for aluminum, in the same location in the Solomon Islands.

The spill occurred July 1, according to the Guardian, turning Kangava Bay’s typically teal waters a striking clay red. A separate ship spilled more than 100 tons of oil into the eastern side of this same bay in February after strong waves pushed the ship into a reef. This time, however, weather wasn’t to blame. The bauxite ore, which is being mined from Rennell Island, “slipped” into the water during loading, reports the Guardian. Both times, the barges were owned by Bintan Mining Company, per Radio New Zealand.

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These contamination events spell trouble for the local reef ecosystem, which is so special that the site sits on the UNESCO World Heritage List. They’re also having an impact on the roughly 1,200 people who live on the island, including members of the Tehakatu’u tribe, as they typically collect rainwater to drink and fish from the bay for food.

Last time, community members struggled with drinking water and food in wake of the disaster. People are being advised not to fish again, Derek Pongi, the Tehakatu’u Development Association chairman, told Earther via Facebook. But while Pongi says some are resorting to processed canned foods, The Guardian reports that other people aren’t heeding these warnings. Meanwhile, children continue to swim and play in the water, according to photos provided by Pongi.

Children play in the contaminated red waters of Kangava Bay.
Photo: Courtesy of Derek Pongi
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The Tehakatu’u Development Association has been providing water to locals and has contributed almost $500 (4,000 Solomon Island Dollars) to the community since last week’s spill. They’ll need every dollar; this spill could impact the coral reefs permanently if they struggle to find sunlight beneath all the bauxite powder, per the Guardian. If corals die, it’s possible not as many fish will come to the bay anymore.

The environmental assessment for the last spill should wrap by July 17, according to the Guardian. In wake of this latest spill, Tehakatu’u Development Association will try to commission an independent assessment, said Pongi to Earther.  

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So far, there’s no news on when clean up will begin or how long it’ll take for this most recent disasterbut the government needs to hurry up. People’s well-being is on the line.

The contaminated water in Kangava Bay bleeds red.
Photo: Courtesy of Derek Pongi
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About the author

Yessenia Funes

I mostly write about how environmental policy and climate change intersect with race and class though I occasionally write about animals, science, and art, too. We all need an escape, right?

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