Few Long-Lasting Impacts Found
The latest independent monitoring report, plus $2m of Government funding to help improve New Zealand’s maritime response capability, coming two years after the wreck of MV Rena, is welcome news. The report shows few long-lasting impacts on Bay of Plenty maritime habitats. MV Rena, a Liberian-flagged, Greek-owned container ship that grounded on Otaiti (Astrolabe Reef) just 7 km off the coast of Tauranga in the Bay of Plenty on the North Island.
According to University of Waikato Chair in Coastal Science Professor Chris Battershill, “While there is still some evidence from time to time of heightened Rena-sourced contaminant levels in kaimoana (seafood) species on some of the beaches, and northern parts of Motiti [Island], the vast majority of kaimoana and other species have survived, and no evidence has been found of any catastrophic die-off,” he said.
The monitoring is part of the Government’s $2.4 million Rena Long Term Environmental Recovery Plan. The 460-page report’s main goal is an unusual one in the existing world view, which generally focuses on the monetary aspects of any major project that involves government agencies, NGO’s, the public and especially, indigenous people.
In this case, it is heart-warming and in keeping with New Zealand’s strong environmental consciousness. The Report’s opening paragraphs spell it out.
“The Rena Long-term Environmental Recovery Plan sets the goal and objectives of the long-term environmental recovery following the grounding of Rena on Otaiti (Astrolabe Reef). It describes the environmental issues and outlines the action that will be undertaken to address them.
‘Toitu te Moana a Toi. Toitu te Iwi’: if the mana (force) of Te Moana (the sea) a Toi (summit) is restored, so the mana of the iwi (tribe) is strengthened. The Long-term Environmental Recovery Plan is critical to restoring the affected environment, including its people.
‘Whakarongo ki a Tangaroa. He tohu.’ Listen to Tangaroa (god of the sea). He will give a sign. This saying means you must stay in touch with the environment.”
Initially, when MV Rena hit the rocky, sacred Maori reef, spewing containers and heavy fuel-oil into the sea, killing hundreds of birds and sending the oil creeping onto the pristine beaches, the Motiti Islanders were devastated. Their island was inundated with press, workers on the salvage rigs and government officials all wanting to see for themselves. Their traditions and their matauranga (traditional wisdom) were ignored all the while their sacred reef was being damaged by the wreck and debris.
That changed over the first few months, as iwi from around the area independently went ahead cleaning beaches and helping in the restoration work, using their innate knowledge of the sea, the area and their culture. Coordinating entities began asking for advice and when the Recovery Plan was presented on 26 January 2012, it was clear the authorities had been listening. Dr Kepa Morgan, a bi-cultural Professor at the University of Auckland launched the project “How do we return the mauri (life principle of the area) to its pre-Rena state?”
Dr Morgan has developed a Mauri Model that “assesses the environmental impact of decision choices as indicators grouped in four equally weighted mauri dimensions: environmental, cultural, social and economic well-being. The impact upon mauri is determined as the change in life supporting capacity of the indicator being considered.” The model combines both scientific knowledge and cultural aspects in equal parts.
Although this model is still not used extensively throughout the New Zealand government, with the Rena Long-term Environmental Recovery Plan, there is hope that these principles will soon be included in many more projects as the results provide proof over the years, that incorporating the Mauri Model, in whatever culture it is used, is beneficial to all.
Some Rena Facts Courtesy Maritime New Zealand
- At the height of the response, around 800 people were involved in the oil spill response team, including members of the incident command centre (ICC), and beach clean-up and wildlife response teams.
- Around 500 New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) personnel were involved at the height of the response.
- Around 8,000 volunteers joined the response, contributing more than 19,000 hours to the clean-up.
- Around 150 local businesses and organisations provided support to the response.
- Beach clean-up crews collected more than 1,000 tonnes of oily waste from the coastline.
- A team of about 90 salvors from Svitzer and SMIT were actively engaged in the operation.
- 1,733 tonnes of heavy fuel oil (HFO) on board Rena when it grounded, with around 350 tonnes estimated to have been lost overboard in the first week and further smaller amounts subsequently.
- 1368 containers were listed on the original manifest. Salvors have recovered 1039, with 329 unrecovered, either trapped in inaccessible parts of the wreck or lost to the sea.
- Oiled wildlife treatment and rehabilitation facility set up by The National Oiled Wildlife Response Team, led by Massey University, capable of housing 500 birds.
- 407 birds in care at the facility at the peak of the response,
- A total of 375 little blue penguins cleaned and released in a staged process from 22 November 2011.
- 60 endangered New Zealand dotterels were pre-emptively caught to protect them from oil, and progressively released from 25 November 2011.
- A total of 2030 dead birds collected, of which 1367 were oiled.