Rena Pollution in Bay of Plenty

A steady stream of debris from the stranded container ship, Rena, is washing ashore at beaches all along the Bay of Plenty.

Sunday, 6th November 2011

Papamoa Beach and Motiti Island have featured prominently in the news recently because they have borne the brunt of the pollution caused by the Rena stranding, but a smaller battle is being waged day after day all along the coast from Coromandel to Cape Runaway. Locals at communities all along the Bay of Plenty coastline are regularly patrolling their beaches collecting debris from the Rena which struck Astrolabe Reef just over a month ago.

High tide deposits a continual stream of small pieces of polystyrene liberated from shipping containers that have fallen over the side of the stranded container ship. Larger pieces of debris still wash ashore and shipping containers have drifted ashore intact and in pieces at several locations.

Container wall in Whanarua Bay 1 November 2011

[Click for larger image] This side wall of a container washed into a cove in Whanarua Bay in the eastern Bay of Plenty last Tuesday morning. (Wild Land photo).

The beach patrols, organised by local volunteers, are equipped with protective gloves and collection bags by authorities. It is these patrols which collect the steady stream of small pieces of debris from the high tide mark all along the coast.

Polystyrene, Whanarua Bay, 1 November 2011

[click for larger image] Most of the polystyrene is discoloured when it washes ashore. (Wild Land photo).

Oil-coated polystyrene, Whanarua Bay, 1 November 2011

[click for larger image] Some of the pieces of debris are coated in the sticky fuel oil which escaped from the container vessel’s fuel tanks. The oil behaves like soft tar, coating anything it comes in contact with. (Wild Land photo).

Oil deposit on driftwood, Whanarua Bay, 1 November 2011

[click for larger image] Small amounts of water-borne oil are reaching beaches on the eastern side of the Bay of Plenty as evidenced by the deposit on this driftwood stick found on the beach near Whanarua Bay. (Wild Land photo).

The eastern Bay of Plenty is sparsely populated, with tiny communities linked by State Highway 35 which runs around the North Island’s coast from Opotiki to Gisborne. Much of the land between Te Kaha and Cape Runaway is held by Whanau Apanui and the communities organise themselves around local marae. Maritime New Zealand visited the area last weekend, briefing locals at a marae on the situation and establishing links for an initial supply of safety gear for people carrying out beach cleaning.

These communities rely heavily on the sea for a large part of their diet, and the impact of pollution on kai moana (seafood) is of deep concern. However, anger at the damage to seafood stocks since the Rena stranded on October 5th has been largely put aside while the focus is on cleaning up the on-going pollution as quickly as possible. Genuine fear at the damage that could be caused by an accident during proposed off-shore oil exploration has been heightened by the experience of recent weeks.

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