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New Zealand Oil Spil

By Sam Rye, Conservation Volunteers

Back in October, I was extremely happy to get a phone call from my boss at Conservation Volunteers to jump in the car and head to Tauranga and hit the ground to see what I could do in terms of finding out how we could help. Just to bring you up to speed, CV has 28 years of experience in volunteer recruitment, management & safety. We've responded in the past to bushfires in Victoria, floods in Queensland, and several other incidents, as well as our regular every day work with volunteers on social & environmental programs.

Friday morning I hit the beaches, speaking to everyone I could find in any official / semi-official capacity in relation to the clean up. I sought out people in hi-vis jackets, chatted with police, tracked down numbers for the command unit, and scoured the beaches to try to estimate the scale of the cleanup, and how long a likely response would take.

It's worth saying that this isn't a small oil leak. It was initially 300 tonnes 'unaccounted for'; the largest other southern hemisphere incident I've heard of was about 240 tonnes. This isn't Exxon-Valdez, or BP Gulf of Mexico, but it's a major marine & coastal eco-system catastrophe which could've been a whole lot worse if it weren't for the salvage crew working hard to recover the remaining 1200 or so tonnes and the remaining containers.

Thankfully the Bay of Plenty has good marine biology data on the health of the ecosystems, so with any hope New Zealand should be able to not only recoup the associated economic costs & impacts, but gather greater data on recovery rates in relation to future spill.

Amazingly the Community response to the oil spill was in the region of 7500 people signed up to the Bay of Plenty's "Operation Beach Clean" which set about clearing everything from heavy oiling to scrubbing rocks and working with the wildlife recovery teams, in order to help the recovery. At Conservation Volunteers we were able to provide advice, skills and knowledge at the Control Centre level to help organise a safe & engaging volunteer program, and are considering ways we can continue to work in the Bay of Plenty on the ongoing recovery program.

Oiled bird in New Zealand, image courtesy Conservation Volunteers.