Tag Archives: Forest and Bird

New Zealand faces its worst-ever oil spill

New Zealand’s environment minister, Nick Smith, is now calling an oil spill resulting from a grounded cargo ship “New Zealand’s most significant maritime environmental disaster.”

Smith made the comments Monday in Tauranga, where near-pristine beaches are becoming fouled with oil.

“It is my view that the tragic events we are seeing unfolding were absolutely inevitable from the point that the Rena ran onto the reef in the early hours of Wednesday morning,” Smith is quoted as saying in Aljazeera.

Al Fleming of Forest and Bird, New Zealand’s largest independent conservation group, has mobilized volunteers to search for oiled wildlife.

“We are faced with a potential disaster along our coastline, and many bird species are currently breeding,” said Fleming in a news release. “The news that the oil spill is getting much worse is a huge worry.”

The organization estimates that 10,000 grey-faced petrels are breeding on nearby islands, along with thousands of diving petrels, white-faced storm petrels and fluttering shearwaters.

Up to 300 little blue penguins are estimated to be living along the coast in the vicinity of the oil spill. Seven of the penguins were among the birds fouled by oil and brought in for rehabilitation.

Spring tides and storm surges could bring oil-laden water up high on the beaches, where New Zealand dotterels, oystercatchers, white-fronted terns and other shore birds are beginning to nest on sandy beaches just above the high-tide mark, the group says.

Migratory birds such as the godwits and red knots are returning to New Zealand from the Northern Hemisphere and arriving in Tauranga and other estuaries along the Bay of Plenty coast.

Whales and dolphins are known to be in the area, and a blue whale and calf were spotted about a week ago. Fur seals are molting on headlands and beaches throughout the region.

Mussels, crabs, and skinks are plentiful on the beaches.

“Without quick action,” said Fleming, “the oil will blanket our filter feeding marine life which are not only important water filters but also crucial in the diets of many animals. Eventually the oil will accumulate throughout the food web.

In this video by the New Zealand Herald, Greg Gay of Portland, Ore., joins local residents in cleaning up a beach near Tauranga.

The latest news is that containers from the ship have fallen into the sea, broken up and their contents — including freeze-dried foods — are washing up on nearby beaches.

“A crack running around the ship’s hull was steadily widening in heavy seas, and officials believed it was only a matter of time before the vessel split in two,” reports a team of reporters from the New Zealand Herald.

“Three tug boats were waiting either to hold the stern on the reef as authorities try to remove oil from the Rena’s fuel tanks or to tow the stern to shallow water.”