Topic: Frustrations and suspicions from a Papamoa perspective

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Labour weekend has been and gone. The weather was sunny and it was so tempting to head to Papamoa beach, just 600m from our home. But the entire coastline remains closed because of the Rena oil spill. These are my personal thoughts about what has happened so far.

Archived version here.

The Rena disaster has completely knocked my confidence in the authorities that we trust to govern us.

Because we live in one of New Zealand's most popular coastal destinations next to the nation's biggest shipping port, I had assumed that 'the powers that be' would have a full-scale system ready to swing into action if a shipping mishap were to happen.

Obviously not!

This disaster obviously happened at a very inconvenient time for Prime Minister John Key, who wanted us all to be focused on the thrills of World Cup rugby.

In the early days of the disaster, the government's standard line that "things will get worse before they get better" implied that they were responding in a reactive rather than a proactive way to the situation. 

Maritime NZ's standard line that it was a 'complex' situation did little to allay our concerns that nothing appeared to be happening during the first five days of perfect weather following the Rena's grounding.  Many suspect it was simply a lot of finger-pointing to do with liability and clean-up costs. 

The Rena started to break up and the sight of black oily waves washing onto our beautiful beach was heartbreaking.  It was easy to avoid touching the black sticky stuff, but many of us were surprised at the strength of the fumes that came with it.

My willingness to serve as a volunteer began to wane.  I researched some to the health effects experienced during and after other international oil spills.  It seems the authorities decision to mix the dispersant Corexit with the oil could have highly toxic consequences - far greater than the oil itself.

After several more days, the Rena was still intact so the authorities finally decided they should start doing more.

Despite countless offers of help from around NZ and the world, they put their faith in one narrow pipe, one pump, and a tanker ship which could not handle rough seas.  Bit by bit, the "Marmite" oil was sucked out.  

I attended the second public meeting about Rena in Papamoa and was dismayed at the poor turnout.  We listened to an interesting lengthy presentation about the history of the Rena grounding, but the authorities seemed unwilling or unable to explain the details of their future plans for this event (still being reactive rather than proactive, or perhaps they assumed it was too 'complex' for us).

Several days later, the authorities managed to source a second pipe, an extra pump, and a better tanker ship.  Finally it feels like progress is being made with half the oil now pumped off the Rena.

I would like to know why the thousands of eager volunteers have not been used to speed up the reopening of our beaches.  I have heard that there is a huge stockpile of chemical suits in storage in Tauranga waiting to be used. 

I suspect the answer is that the situation is simply too toxic.  Perhaps the authorities are trialling small groups of volunteers, waiting to see if they have any adverse reactions before they use volunteers on a mass scale.  Or perhaps it is that the oil particles are now too small to be easily collected.  In that case, perhaps the oil could have been collected quicker before it had the chance to break down, or the offers of motorised beach groomers should have been accepted a long time ago. 

I'm concerned that even if they do get the rest of the oil off the Rena, missing containers could still contaminate our environment and our economy.  My suggestion that they could put transmitters on each container while they are on deck, to help track them if they do fall off, seemed to be quickly derided by the speaker's at the Papamoa public meeting.

In the meantime, we have to drive by the countless 'closed' signs along our beach for who knows how long.  I don't know if anyone is really telling us the truth about the current and future state of our beach and ocean.

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This page archived at Perma CC in November of 2016: https://perma.cc/CRH3-YV97

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