Research confirms Rena disaster was mostly harmless

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.   

Other risks remained, Dr Ross said, including heavy metals and high levels of a banned anti-fouling paint, tributyltin (TBT), which is highly toxic to marine life.

The Rena was certified as TBT-free, but the chemical was still present under some layers of paint.

“A lot of the paint was scraped off and some of this TBT was released into the environment. That’s something that’s probably going to stick around for quite a while and is one of the areas of concern in terms of understanding what impacts there might be on marine life.”

Once again, the impact of one wreck with some anti-fouling paint is extremely minimal.  It’s the persistent use and concentrated contamination of marinas, harbours and small bays that are the real threat.   And as research has shown, the Rena is absolutely flourishing as an artificial reef right now.

So all in all, even though we don’t want maritime disasters like these, the actual outcome of it has been quite minimal, short term, and there really isn’t anything that researchers can point to that will remain a concern for generations to come.

In other words, the usual greenie panic amplified by a media that likes to report the Shock Horror of it all.  It then takes 5 years for a small article like this to come along and put things right.  An article less than 1% of the population will see or take in, and an article the media will point to so justify that their reporting is indeed balanced.


– Ruth Hill, RNZ

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As much at home writing editorials as being the subject of them, Cam has won awards, including the Canon Media Award for his work on the Len Brown/Bevan Chuang story. When he’s not creating the news, he tends to be in it, with protagonists using the courts, media and social media to deliver financial as well as death threats.

They say that news is something that someone, somewhere, wants kept quiet. Cam Slater doesn’t do quiet and, as a result, he is a polarising, controversial but highly effective journalist who takes no prisoners.

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