The Mauritius Meteorological Services issued a bulletin on Wednesday at 08:55 regarding an earthquake of magnitude 6.5, whose epicentre was located about 4,500 km southwest of Mauritius. Environmental expert and oceanographer Vassen Kauppaymuthoo looks back on this phenomenon.

An earthquake bulletin was issued on Wednesday by the Mauritius Meteorological Services, the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Centre (NDRRMC) said in a statement. The earthquake, measuring 6.5 magnitude, was observed at 08:55. The epicentre was located at latitude 53.3° South and longitude 25.4° East, approximately 4,500 km southwest of Mauritius. Although there was no risk of a tsunami, it advised against venturing into the lagoons and along the beaches in the western and southern regions.

Environmental expert and oceanographer Vassen Kauppaymuthoo explains that an earthquake is a natural phenomenon caused by the movement of tectonic plates. According to him, we observe many seismic phenomena, especially in the Ring of Fire region near Indonesia. He recalls that a major earthquake occurred on December 26, 2004, causing the death of 500,000 people in the Indian Ocean. “Just yesterday, an earthquake occurred. This phenomenon is the result of the release of stored energy when two rocks press against each other until the energy is suddenly released, creating a snap at the junction of the plates,” he says.

Wednesday's earthquake occurred 4,500 km from Mauritius and was recorded at a magnitude of 6.7 by the US Geological Survey (USGC), which is significant on the Richter scale in terms of the energy released, Vassen Kauppaymuthoo points out. “When this energy is released, it can cause surface movement or the propagation of a tsunami. In Haiti, a magnitude 7 earthquake caused between 300,000 and 400,000 deaths, demonstrating the danger of earthquakes, especially when they are shallow (about 10 km).”

An early warning was issued on Wednesday morning by the Indian Ocean Tsunami Warning and Mitigation System (IOTWNS) based on historical data and modelling, indicating the possibility of tsunami generation that could affect areas such as Mauritius. “The NDRRMC communicated at 09:33 that there was no tsunami risk for Mauritius. However, this event reiterates the importance for Mauritius to be prepared to deal with earthquake and tsunami risks,” he said.

The environmental expert and oceanographer adds that Rodrigues has also been close to an earthquake recently, being located near the triple junction of the Indian Ocean, an area favourable to underwater earthquakes. “In 2004, I had already highlighted the risk of tsunami, and UNESCO confirmed that this risk is real. A tsunami warning system was set up taking into account the number of people who died in 2004 in Somalia and the Seychelles, with the earthquake felt as far as Mauritius,” he says.

A tsunami can travel long distances, up to 800 km in a few hours (5 to 7 hours) to reach Mauritius. “This risk does not only concern Indonesia, Comoros, or Reunion. We must remain ready to face this type of situation,” pleads Vassen Kauppaymuthoo.

He also points out that these phenomena are also linked to climate change. For example, the melting of ice at the South Pole causes isostatic adjustment, causing the land to rise and changing the balance between tectonic plates, which can cause earthquakes. Thus, he warns, with climate change we must expect significant adjustments.

Vassen Kauppaymuthoo reiterates that Mauritius must remain prepared for earthquakes and tsunamis. “These events remind us of the need to prepare for natural disasters, beyond floods and cyclones,” he insists.

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