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An oiled Little Blue Penguin is cleaned at the Oiled Wildlife Response Centre in Mt Maunganui. Most have not been so lucky. Photo: jeremy cg (Birdlife International).
An oiled Little Blue Penguin is cleaned at the Oiled Wildlife Response Centre in Mt Maunganui. Most have not been so lucky. Photo: jeremy cg (Birdlife International).Enlarge image

New Zealand oil spill still spreading

Posted on: 19 Jan 2012

An estimated 20,000 birds have now been killed by the wrecked container ship MV Rena, causing New Zealand's worst ever maritime environmental disaster.

The wreck foundered off the Bay of Plenty coast, near Tauranga, North Island, last October, and more birds are being killed and harmed since the wreck broke up on January 8. No effort should be spared to clean up the oil and debris from the Rena as the toll on wildlife continues to rise, Forest and Bird (BirdLife in New Zealand) said this week.

“We are deeply concerned about the effects on shorebirds, seabirds, and other marine life as oil and debris spread from the wreck,” Forest and Bird Field Officer Al Fleming said. “It is vital that we continue working hard to clean up the Bay of Plenty coast and seas to minimise the damage to wildlife and the environment.”

At least 60 dead oiled birds have been collected since the beginning of last week. Overseas research suggests only around 10 per cent of all birds killed in an oil spill are ever recovered, with most sinking without trace at sea. Around a dozen oiled Little Blue Penguins have been recovered for treatment during the last week, as well as three Grey-faced Petrels and a New Zealand Dotterel. They are being cared for at the Oiled Wildlife Response Centre in Mt Maunganui, or at Massey University in Palmerston North.

Fleming said there are also concerns about the impact on wildlife of debris, particularly the translucent plastic beads that spilled from the Rena’s cargo. One bird recovering at the response centre has been seen vomiting plastic beads and birds on the beach have been spotted feeding on the beads.

“Shorebirds, such as the threatened New Zealand Dotterel, feed on sandhoppers and fish eggs, which are also translucent and a similar size to the beads. Floating beads float also pose a threat to seabirds feeding on the water,” he said. “A number of dead birds have been found on the beaches that have not been oiled. Autopsies will confirm whether they have eaten debris or died from other causes.”

A large number of juvenile shorebirds and seabirds are in the Bay of Plenty area at the moment and they are more likely to eat debris, because the young typically learn feeding habits through trial and error. Other potential threats to wildlife from debris include damage to nests, entanglement and a build-up of toxins.

Forest & Bird last year launched a Save our Shorebirds project in the Bay of Plenty following funding cuts to the Department of Conservation. Save our Shorebirds focuses on pest control, education and improving habitats for shorebirds, and will now also work on trying to minimise the continuing impact of the Rena disaster.

Forest and Bird is raising funds for Save our Shorebirds through our website and telemarketers. More information about the project and making a donation can be found on the Forest and Bird website at Forest & Bird is calling for a full inquiry into the Rena grounding to ensure the lessons are learned following New Zealand’s worst ever maritime environmental disaster.

Authorities appear to have been unable to prevent a devastating oil spill following the grounding of the ship close to New Zealand’s busiest port.

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