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Tesearch into Rena impact critical to environmental recovery

22 November, 2011

Ongoing research into Rena impacts critical to environmental recovery

The Bay of Plenty has now been spared another major spill from MV Rena, but University of Waikato scientists will continue to research and monitor the effects of the spilt oil to understand how badly it has contaminated the environment and food chain.

Chair in Coastal Science Professor Chris Battershill spoke at the Oceanz Dive Conference and Exhibition held in Tauranga earlier this month and at the Tauranga Cafe Scientifique held last night, and said New Zealand has a lot to learn from this disaster.

“We may have dodged a bullet, but we need to know where the bullet went,” he says.

“As well as understanding how the food web has been affected, our research will seek to determine how the oil has affected the physiology of marine organisms, and indeed how the oil degrades.”

Ongoing research will provide essential knowledge in responding to the impacts and determine how future marine disasters should be managed, he said.

“Importantly, it will sharpen our ability to predict environmental effects and recovery.”

Recent work by University of Waikato chemists has determined the make-up of the Rena fuel oil and Professor Battershill said these findings are critical.

“Surprisingly little was known about the oil and how it behaved in the New Zealand environment before, but now we can determine its fate and effects as the oil leaves a characteristic footprint.”

He compared the Rena grounding to the Pacific Adventurer oil spill off the Queensland Coast in 2009 and, more recently, to the Shen Neng 1 grounding on Australia’s Great Barrier Reef last year. Despite only losing three tonnes of oil, the Shen Neng 1 caused significant long-lasting damage to large areas of coral reef. Use of heavy machinery to clear oil from beaches in the Pacific Adventurer incident also caused long-term consequences, he said.

“The Rena spill is small by world standards but because of New Zealand’s unpolluted coastline this is very serious for New Zealand. It is important that compensation adequately covers long term, ongoing research.”

Professor Battershill said work to date provides an excellent platform to monitor recovery, but he stressed more research is needed to determine the effects on species and habitats inhabiting the rocky reefs around Astrolabe Reef, especially on Motiti Island.

ENDS

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