Counting the environmental cost of the Mauritius oil spill

Scientists and conservationists alike are beginning to count the cost of an oil spill from a Japanese bulk carrier in Mauritius, which leaked about 1,000 tonnes of oil into the country's pristine waters.

The MV Wakashio struck a coral reef on the southeast coast of Mauritius on July 25 and began leaking oil last week.

Leading conservationists believe the spill has set back two decades' worth of restoring the natural wildlife and plants in the lagoon.

Oceanographer and environmental engineer Vassen Kauppaymuthoo says the location of the spill is particularly sensitive.

''Around a little bit less than 50 percent of this lagoon is covered by environmentally sensitive areas, be it corals, be it seagrass, be it mangroves, be it entire mudflats, sand beaches and dunes, which is huge. Which confirms the sensitivity of this lagoon, in terms of oil spill."

Dead eels and starfish are among the species seen floating in the usually azure water, now marred by toxic slick.

A number of tiny, endangered Bojer Skink lizards have been translocated from their natural habitats in a bid to protect them.

Ecotoxicologist Christopher Goodchild from Oklahoma State University, says the cleanup presents a major challenge.

''With this oil spill it looks like there is infiltration out of the mangroves, so you have the oily substance that can bind to organic matter or dirt and start to settle in and just being able to remove that toxic sediment can be a real challenge."

Nagashiki Shipping, the owner of the vessel behind the spill, said on Thursday it felt its responsibility acutely and intends to take steps towards assessing compensation.