Bay of Plenty Polytechnic Rena Rapid Response

Press Release – Bay of Plenty Polytechnic

The main attractions that pull residents, tourists and students to the Bay of Plenty have been its 30km of pristine white sandy beaches, balmy weather, abundant marine life and unlimited ocean based sports. All of this hangs in the balance as the sand …Bay of Plenty Polytechnic Rena Rapid Response

12 October 2011

The main attractions that pull residents, tourists and students to the Bay of Plenty have been its 30km of pristine white sandy beaches, balmy weather, abundant marine life and unlimited ocean based sports. All of this hangs in the balance as the sand turns black, the water coughs up clumps of oil and the marine life hangs under a threatening blanket of toxic sludge leaking from the container ship grounded off the Mount Maunganui coast.

Bay of Plenty Polytechnic has trained thousands of students in Marine Studies and Environmental Management over the last 20 years. They have been completing their degrees through tertiary partnerships with AUT and as from 2012 in conjunction with the University of Waikato. Through all this time the Bay of Plenty has never witnessed such an environmental catastrophe.

Although the authorities have been tackling the issues with due process, cool heads, planning and logistics, it doesn’t stop the locals from feeling desperate to do anything they can to protect our ‘Taonga’, the natural environment which we all hold so dear. It’s only natural for people to react and point the finger of blame, but all the locals really want to do is pick up a shovel and start clearing the toxic mess off their beach. Where do you want us? When do you want us? And what do you want us to do? These are the questions on everyone’s lips.

Polytechnic students are already being utilised in wildlife rescue, beach cleanup and environmental monitoring, both on the mainland and out on Motiti Island. With over 250 students on the Marine Studies, Environmental Management and Animal Care courses on campus, many have already signed up as volunteers. Not to mention the 6500 plus other students who are also watching the coastline with building trepidation.

A team from Bay of Plenty Polytechnic, led by Research Leader, skipper and dive instructor, Keith Gregor, hastily undertook surveys to get a ‘baseline’ of the marine life in key areas before the oil arrived. The seven Marine Studies tutors, assisted by some senior students, joined with Dr Chris Battershill from the University of Waikato and Shane Wasik, president of the New Zealand Underwater Association. With collectively over 200 years of marine biology and diving experience between them, the team hit the water on Friday and worked through the weekend to assess the distribution and abundance of marine species close to the Rena exclusion zone.

Bay of Plenty Polytechnic’s research vessel, Okiwa, and a University of Waikato survey boat served as research platforms from which numerous survey dives were conducted using quadrats in the two depth ranges most likely to be affected by the oil slick. They also took underwater photos and video footage of the sites. “The marine environment at Tuhua (Mayor Island) is well documented due to our ongoing monitoring collaboration with the Department of Conservation, but we felt the need to survey sites such as Plate Island, Motiti Island, Okapara Reef and Karewa Island” said Keith Gregor.

“As well as recording what we saw, we also took tissue samples of various marine animals and algae to measure base levels of Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons, which are contaminants generally found in oil” says Keith. “Our students were instrumental in recording this data and even though staff and students would usually be on holiday, now is the time to act when our environment is at stake. Local iwi are also very concerned and we were on hand to transport a group of iwi representatives to Motiti Island for a hui and a closer look at the grounded ship.”

Reports suggest that this could be a long drawn out process, potentially months or even years before normality is restored to this pristine coastal region and it’s definitely going to get worse before it gets better. “We’re definitely in this for the long haul” says Keith. “When the dust settles and it’s time for us to conduct our follow up surveys, we’ll be there.”

All we can do is prepare for the worst and hope for the best. For the moment, if you see oiled wildlife or oil on the shore, please don’t attempt to deal with it yourself, instead call the appropriate response team. To report oil in a new area, a container on the shore or to volunteer in the oil clean up call 0800 OIL SPILL (0800 645 774); to report dead or oiled wildlife or to volunteer to help with wildlife recovery call 0800 333 771; to email offers of assistance the address is iccrena@gmail.com

ENDS

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