Thousands in Mauritius — from government officials to students and volunteers — are scrambling to contain the estimated 1,000 tons of fuel oil already leaked into Indian Ocean off the coast of the island nation that ran aground on a reef in late July, according to reports. The crisis could become even worse, the prime minister said, if the bulk carrier MV Wakashio breaks apart, spilling an estimated 2,500 more tons of oil into the fragile coastal ecosystem on which the economy of the tiny island nation located about 1,200 miles off the eastern coast of Madagascar, relies. The Japanese-owned ship ran aground on July 25, but did not begin leaking fuel oil until last week.

As Japan and France pledged to send Mauritius personnel and logistical support, thousands of volunteers, some already covered in oily sludge, worked frantically to string together miles of improvised floating barriers made of straw stuffed into fabric sacks to contain the spill. “I think it’s already too late. If the ship breaks in two, the situation will be out of control,” Vassen Kauppaymuthoo, an oceanographer and environmental engineer, told AFP. “We’re talking about a major disaster that is progressing, and it’s getting more complicated hour by hour.” (The Guardian, AP, AP, BBC, Al Jazeera, Gizmodo, CBS, Forbes; Photos: CNN