Research into the long-term effects of the Rena wreck has found some of the biggest ongoing risks are attributable to unexpected sources – including the clean-up effort itself.
Nearly five years after the container ship ran aground off Tauranga, a series of papers published in the New Zealand Journal of Marine and Freshwater Research looks at the lessons learned.
A lead researcher, Waikato University marine ecologist Phil Ross, said the biggest threat was initially thought to be the oil, which coated rocks, beaches and birds.
However, thanks to a massive effort by thousands of people – heralded as the first-ever effective volunteer response following an oil spill – this risk was quickly dealt with.
So if not oil, what is the real threat of the Rena?
In the rush to get salvage vessels to the site, the authorities neglected to do the usual biosecurity checks, and belatedly discovered six foreign pest species on the hull of a barge brought over from Australia.
It was “just lucky” none of the pests established themselves, because they would have created a much bigger environmental problem than the oil itself.
“The legacy of the ship wreck wouldn’t have been the oil or the other contaminants – it would have been these invasive species that would have been here for ever, because once they got established in Tauranga, they would have spread around New Zealand.”
If you’ll excuse the nautical pub, that’s a bit of a red herring. The vessel clearly was already visiting our waters and ports, as do many others, so the risk of these species coming here via the Rena is just completely overstated. Read more »