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Long read: The beauty and drama of video games and their clouds

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Playing Super Mario Sunshine reminds me of a recent tragedy in my country

And some of the coincidences are pretty spooky...

As a Mauritian who loved Super Mario Sunshine back in its day, I could already see the many similarities Super Mario Sunshine has to Mauritius.

Sunshine is a game that sold relatively well but remains divisive amongst Super Mario fans. The game starts with Mario, Peach and Toadsworth arriving on Isle Delfino where they aim to enjoy a nice relaxing holiday. This of course is not what happens, and Mario is soon framed and wrongly imprisoned for spreading a goop-like substance and attendant monsters across the island. Mario the polluter! It's then Mario's task, and yours, to clean up the island with his new mechanical water shooting weapon, F.L.U.D.D.

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The tropical island setting, the happy inhabitants, the holiday destination feel. How could I not think of Mauritius? I return to my very own Delfino Island of a home country every other year - apart from last year for the obvious reasons. And this is where it gets spooky. It may be a stretch to say that a decades old Mario game predicted exactly what happened in Mauritius last year, but the more I look into it...?

In order to explain exactly how the two share some strange coincidences let me explain exactly what happened in Mauritius.

On July 25th last year, during the height of the pandemic, a large capesize bulk carrier, the MV Wakashio ship came too close to the shore of Mauritius on it's way from China to Brazil. The ship was caught on top of a coral reef and broke in two, leaking an estimated 1000 tonnes of oil into the ocean off the south- eastern coast of Mauritius. This was devastating. It affected wildlife, plantlife, tourism, fishing industries and many other facets of Mauritian life.

Whenever I cast my mind back to this, I instantly think of Sunshine's Ricco Harbour level. This level is a shipping dock and like many of the other levels is covered in goop by the time you get there. What makes this level different to all the others is the fact that the goop in the rest of the game is generally the colour of spilled ice creams - hot pinks and oranges and blues. But all the goop in this level is black. There is also this oil like goop leaking out of shipping containers around the level. (Another peculiar occurrence is in the name of the game's final level. The last area of the game takes place on top of a volcano where Mario faces off against his nemesis Bowser and, granted, this game came out in 2002 and the oil spill happened during the height of the pandemic, but it's wild to me that the name of this level is Corona Mountain.)

Like the Pianta people of Delfino Island, Mauritius was also unprepared and lacked the equipment necessary to tackle the oil spill and pollution caused. Luckily for Mauritius, other countries stepped in to help. Teams of experts in oil spills and crisis management were sent from the United Nations to help communities, the private sector and the government to coordinate clean-up efforts. Marine ecologists arrived from Japan and the United Kingdom. India sent a team of 10 coast guards specialising in containing oil spills as well as 30 tonnes of equipment and materials, and finally, France helped by sending a military aircraft and a naval vessel along with teams and equipment from the french owned neighbouring island, Reunion. This is a lot of great help seen from Mauritius' closest allies, especially when all Delfino Island had was Mario and a glorified water pistol.

This isn't to say that Mauritian people were laying back and soaking up the light of Shine Sprites. Protests of over 100,000 people marched the streets due to the poor response of the situation from the Mauritian government. Makeshift cloth barriers which could be described as big hair noodles, were thrown into the ocean to soak up the oil and brought back onto the land to be wrung out into buckets and reused. These cloth barriers were made from human hair which had been donated to the cause and leftover sugar cane trash. Ocean booms were also made from empty bottles and more cane trash which were put in the surrounding location to extract more oil and were anchored so that they wouldn't drift away. Many Mauritians volunteered and worked hard throughout the events that happened after the spill, risking their safety, breathing in the toxic fumes and with little equipment to save the country we pride ourselves in.

Mauritius is home to beautiful wildlife. The pink pigeon narrowly avoided extinction in the 1990s.

One of the biggest victims of this disaster has been the wildlife. The oil spill has been called the biggest ecological disaster Mauritius has ever seen, and this is mostly because of where the spill happened. Just as how Super Mario Sunshine is known for its unique variants of classic Mario series enemies found only in this one game, Mauritius has unique species of flora and fauna, hosting many species which can be found nowhere else in the world. The marine environment is home to 1,700 species including around 800 types of fish, 17 kinds of marine mammals and two species of turtles, according to the UN Convention on Biological Diversity. Even though the disaster only affected a 15 kilometre stretch of Mauritius' 177 kilometre coastline, it's where it happened which has caused such a problem. The oil spill has had a direct effect on two environmentally protected marine ecosystems and the Blue Bay Marine Park reserve, which is a wetland of international importance.

Who is to blame? In Sunshine, Mario is framed for the pollution around Isle Delfino and taken to court and then sentenced to clean it all up. The Mauritian spill also ended up in court. There are mysterious goings on with the court case which saw the Captain of the ship fight against a possible 60 year jail sentence. At first, Captain Sunil Kumar Nandeshwar was being represented by Mauritius' oldest still practising lawyer, Yousuf Mohamed, but a sudden change of heart from the Captain made him change his lawyer to a different team from the MV Wakashio's owners Nagashiki Shipping. This is increasingly weird when in the past, big shipping companies that have suffered from oil spills are known to put the blame solely on their captains of ships.

Not only this but before the sudden change to Lawyers from Nagashiki Shipping, the wife of the Captain who is a judge in India not only paid 100,000 Mauritian rupees for one of Mauritius' best lawyers, but the Captain's sister begged Mr Mohamed to stay as the Captain's active lawyer.

This whole episode has been a tragedy for the island. By November of last year most of the surface oil has been removed from Mauritius' surrounding water and restoration of the coastline is expected to be completed by early this year, but the complete effects the spill has had on other facets of life like, tourism, fishing, animal and plant life are expected to last for decades. If you would like to donate to the cause and help Mauritius, consider donating money here.

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