SOURCE: Radio New Zealand

DATE: February 27, 2019

SNIP: An environmental disaster is unfolding in Solomon Islands, on the island of Rennell, with tonnes of oil spilling into an internationally-significant marine reserve.

In Kangava Bay, the azure waters have been blackened by oil, the reef thick with sludge. Metres away, where the rich rainforest barrels down to the coast, the white sand gets coated by a heavy goop with each wave that rolls in. The air is thick with the stench of heavy chemicals, residents say.

Each day for the past three weeks, locals have looked out to a giant ship, the MV Solomon Trader, as it sits wedged on a reef, a gash on its side leaking as much as 60 tonnes of oil into a marine sanctuary.

The spill is still not contained.

Meanwhile, the spill could taint a Unesco world heritage area already threatened by climate change, mining and logging. And for locals, it’s poisoning their food sources and livelihoods.

Willie Kaitu’u, who hails from the Tehakatu’u tribe in Kangava Bay, said the beaches were covered with oil, the air was pungent, and fishing grounds that his people have long relied on ruined.

Since 4 February, it’s sat where it was grounded. Cyclone Oma lingered for more than a week, stirring heavy swells and preventing tugboats from attempting to salvage the ship, from where it’s proved stubborn to remove.

The reef the Hong Kong-flagged Solomon Trader sits on is part of a World Heritage Area, recognised by the United Nations as a global site of ecological significance that’s already under threat. Rennell is the largest raised coral atoll in the world, and contains diverse and unmodified forests, coral and species.

“The content of the oil on board is highly poisonous,” Mr Singamoana said. “We use the sea for most of our support, especially in terms of food.”

“The people rely on the sea but now it’s all contaminated and polluted,” he said. “Things are not looking good for my people.”