Topic: Rena Submission by Debbie McCauley (23 September 2015)

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On 23 September 2015 Debbie McCauley presented her submission to the RENA Resource Consent Hearing Commissioners and members of the public at the ASB Arena in Truman Lane, Mount Maunganui. The Hearing panel was chaired by retired Environment Court judge Gordon Whiting, with Cultural Commissioner Rauru Kirikiri, marine engineer John Lumsden and environmental scientist Dr Shane Kelly. In May 2014 the Rena’s owner lodged resource consent applications to leave sections of the wreck on Otaiti (Astrolabe) Reef, and to provide for any future discharges of contaminants.

MV Rena – Hearing Day 12 – Digital Transcript & Annotations 23 September 2015 Part 1 (36:05).

Tēnā koutou katoa, ko Debbie McCauley, toku ingoa. My ancestors arrived in this country in 1841, and have been living in the Bay of Plenty since 1875. This is my tūrangawaewae, this is my place to stand.

After the Rena hit I watched in horror as the bodies of thousands of oiled birds were collected, in anger that our beaches had been polluted with rubbish and toxic oil, and in frustration at how long it was taking to remove the wreckage so fouling our beautiful reef.

I felt that the wildlife of Tauranga Moana didn’t have a voice, so last year I wrote a children’s picture book on the Rena disaster. My focus was the plight of a little blue penguin caught up in the oil spill. Unlike many, he was lucky enough to survive.

Motiti Blue and the Oil Spill has just won the Best Non-Fiction category in the New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young People. I believe this is a reflection of how important this story is to our country and, in particular, our local community.

Debbie McCauley (23 September 2015)

Part of the publication of my book has involved engagement with the local community, and especially children, about the disaster that happened in our own backyard. I have also talked with some of the people of Ngai Te Hapu of Motiti Island and I admire how they are coping with not just the ongoing affects of the disaster, but the violation of their sacred site.

Both the children and I are very clear, if you make a mess at home you clean it up. And, if you make a mess in somebody else’s home, you clean that up too. That’s what responsible and respectful adults do and one of the qualities that we are trying to grow in our children. One of the ways to do that is to set a good example.

Just last weekend, members of the Mauao Area Wildlife Trust collected seven kleensaks of recyclable and non-recyclable rubbish from the Mauao base track and environs. Amongst the tidal wrack, which is seaweed, marine vegetation and rubbish left behind by the receding tide, Rena-identifiable rubbish was present. This mainly comprised container insulation and was new rubbish, evidence that the wreck is still producing these little ‘gifts’ for our community to deal with.

The effect of the oil spill was devastating, but what is more distressing in the long term is the time it is taking to clean up the rubbish left behind and the fobbing off of community concern along with spreading the idea that the salvors are just not up to the job of removing all the wreckage for reasons of cost, danger and further damage to the reef.

I can’t understand why this should be so. In the area of diver safety for example this is, after all, what they do for a living. I’m sure they have the necessary skills to carry out the task to its conclusion and are surely paid accordingly for their efforts and risk-taking.

People are just not welcome to visit our beautiful country and leave a toxic mess behind. The owners and insurers of the Rena must face the consequences of their actions and make amends by putting back to rights our moana so the healing can begin.

The iwi of Tauranga moana should never had been put in the position of having to fight for the removal of the Rena wreckage. This ought to have been a central government issue, not left to local government and iwi to defend our ocean.

This issue is vitally important to the future of shipping in our country. Shipping companies need to take all care and responsibility when visiting our waters and understand that if they pollute our home then they will be responsible for cleaning that pollution up.

What I have observed looks to me to be unnecessary delays and underhand tactics used to divide local iwi and our community. Time and money spent on endless reports and so called ‘specialists’ would have been better invested in just getting on with the job in hand. Verbal apologies are not enough to conceal the fact that the insurers and shipping company are trying to dodge their responsibilities.

Our community doesn’t want potential environmental effects managed, we want nil possibility of future environmental effects. My message is very simple, stop muddying the waters, remove the wreck. Stop wasting time and effort on reports and trying to persuade the community. Do what is morally right so that we can all move on and when our children and grandchildren ask questions about this disaster, we can answer them with a clear conscience.

Let me make this even more clear, being from the local community and with roots that stretch back here 140 years. Please stop patronising us, stop speaking on our behalf saying that the local community supports leaving rubbish behind in our precious environment. This sort of paternalistic underhandedness is not welcome. You in no way whatsoever have my backing to leave any part of the wreck behind. Absolutely not, this is not an option, and no amount of money or empty promises will change that opinion.

For generations humans have used the ocean as a dumping ground for every kind of waste. Our actions have caused damage that may take centuries to repair and have seriously challenged our oceans sustainability. A decline in the marine environment has led to a significant reduction and threat to marine wildlife. It is well known that contaminants in the water affect the food chain. 

Our actions can affect people thousands of miles away, but they will also affect the generations yet to come. The only way to make a change is to value our ocean instead of exploiting it and commit ourselves to its protection. The Rena is not the only environmental challenge in Tauranga, but it is one that needs to be dealt with so we can move on to address other issues.

It is abhorrent to even consider abandoning the wreck on the reef and to authorise any further discharges of contaminants from it. This proposition is in no way tolerable and is in fact morally reprehensible. The only acceptable course of action here is total removal.

I think the insurance and shipping company have got off very lightly, if it wasn’t for our local community supporting an army of volunteers the costs for clean-up would have been much higher. Don’t do our community a disservice by failing to finish the job. Have some honour, take responsibility, stop insulting us and remove the wreck.


See also: Rena break-up risk to reef: Teacher by John Cousins (Bay of Plenty Times, 24 September 2015).


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Rena Submission by Debbie McCauley (23 September 2015)