Bird-killing oil spill New Zealand's 'worst environmental disaster'

Jeremy Hance
October 12, 2011

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A marks the location of Papamoa Beach in the Bay of Plenty.

An oil spill from a grounded container ship in New Zealand's Bay of Plenty is threatening to worsen as authorities fear the ship is breaking up. Already, 350 tons of oil from the ship, the MV Rena, has leaked out with some reaching nearby beaches including a popular holiday spot, Papamoa Beach. To date the spill has killed over 200 birds, including little blue penguins, shags, petrels, albatrosses and plovers. If the ship breaks up and sinks, authorities fear it could release its remaining 1,400 tons into the marine ecosystem.

Environment Minister, Nick Smith, called the spill New Zealand's 'worst environmental disaster', with oil imperiling around 62 miles (100 kilometers) of the coastline.

Many have criticized the government for a delayed and lackluster response to the disaster. But Prime Minister, John Key, responded saying, "Show me how you'd go faster? Show me how you'd do anything different?"

 The little blue penguin (Eudyptula minor), also known as the fairy penguin, is the world's smallest penguin. Photo by: Noodle snacks.
The little blue penguin (Eudyptula minor), also known as the fairy penguin, is the world's smallest penguin. Photo by: Noodle snacks.
Given the scale of the disaster, the environmental NGO, Forest & Bird, is calling for a moratorium on all offshore deep sea oil drilling proposals until a full inquiry is made.

"Forest & Bird believes the Rena disaster raises serious questions about our preparedness for an oil spill anywhere in our waters," said Forest & Bird advocacy manager Kevin Hackwell. "In light of this disaster, the government needs to urgently rethink its plans to expand offshore oil and gas drilling."

Local residents defied warnings by authorities about the toxic nature of the oil and began cleaning Papamoa Beach without proper equipment. According to reports, big clumps of oil covered the beach. Residents fear the oil will hamper tourism and fisheries in the area.

"The damage to the Bay of Plenty's coastal environment will be long lasting and it will be a long time before the area loved by so many New Zealanders is restored to the way it was. The ongoing financial and environmental costs will be a bitter but important lesson for us all," Hackwell added.

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Jeremy Hance
mongabay.com (October 12, 2011).

Bird-killing oil spill New Zealand's 'worst environmental disaster'.