‘Where has the oil gone?’ we asked ourselves. First it was coating the beaches, rocky shorelines, birds and seals then the rest in the sea disappeared. There was little official information we could get and media reports suggested it was heading south somewhere between Whakatane and Whangaparaoa Bay (where our flotilla opposing deep sea oil drilling set off earlier this year).
Fortunately a friend emailed me that a hui was called at Te Kaha Marae for officials to inform and discuss a localised response.
So while Greenpeace volunteers worked on Matakana Island to clear oil with hapu, a small team headed to Te Kaha. On the way there I saw with new eyes coastal areas most vulnerable to contamination as we travelled east and contemplated how everything could change by the end of this week if more oil chunders from Rena .
This is what could change for the foreseeable future:
- Quiet Sunday morning whitebaiters and waka ama practise in the Whakatane River.
- Stunning Ohope and Okiwa estuaries fringed with marshlands of reeds that act as kidneys filtering between land and sea, which are home to endangered fernbirds and lanky bittern that will now be nesting. These estuarine plants are essential to the lifecycle of the many inanga/whitebait species which deposit their eggs on the plant’s wet feet. Toxic oil would change all that.
- Seeing the mouth of the Waiotahi – like many river mouths, too rough for a boom to successfully keep oil at bay as massive volume of water surges in and out of the mouths.
At Te Kaha, Bay of Plenty Regional Council officials told us that the oil had sunk and that nobody knew where it was, but it was possible degraded globs of oil would wash up if the currents and wind forced it south. This coastline is vast and sparsely populated. It will require local hapu and communities to organise daily searches after high tide for any oil and for that info to be passed on to the Regional Council 0800 OIL SPILL to receive help and the appropriate clean up gear (including skip bins to take it away).
DO NOT TOUCH THE OIL WITH BARE HANDS OR FEET.
On our way through Opotiki we stopped at my favourite fish and chip shop. As I ate some delicious terakihi I realised that when Rena breaks up and oil spews out it will be some time before fish and shellfish is safe to eat again in the Bay of Plenty region.
Local communities need to make preparations with this in mind – both in terms of the pantry (for Labour Weekend and Christmas) and also economically. I have a horrible feeling that those communities that will bare the brunt will be those who have fought hardest to keep deep sea oil drilling away. There was a message loud and clear next to a Marae: NO DRILL, NO SPILL.
On Wednesday morning Te Whanau a Apanui skipper Elvis Teddy will be in the Tauranga District Court the same day as the captain of the Rena. One a hero, trying to prevent disaster, the other, a sea Captain that has caused a disaster which continues to unfold.
Watch this space...
Photo Fernanda Shirakawa