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New images have captured a 10,000sq m underwater metal "graveyard" that will take many months to remove at the site of the Rena wreck.
The mass of broken containers and debris is so smashed and expansive, the team tasked with removing it has been unable to trace container origins or estimate a clean-up completion date.
The news follows the Bay of Plenty Regional Council revealing that scientific sampling confirmed there were elevated levels of contaminants close to the ship, which was wrecked after striking the reef on October 5, 2011.
Scientists have been working to determine the significance of the contaminants, including any impact on marine life around the reef.
But Resolve Marine Group salvors have found the amount of container and ship debris so expansive, the task of removing it all would take "many, many months".
The images have been captured on video and stills.
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Resolve project manager John Curly told the Bay of Plenty Times the team mapped out a debris field of 10,000sq m at the reef.
"We spent a long time doing that. That's a significant area and you can see very carefully the extent of the debris field."
Mr Curly said the debris spanned from just under the water's surface to 30m-40m. In many places, the reef could not be seen under the amount of metal.
"It gets tough and more difficult as the water gets deeper."
There was so much debris, Mr Curly said they could not estimate an actual date of completion.
"People still have the perception that containers are just on the sea floor in one whole piece but that is not what you will see.
"We aren't seeing any whole containers anywhere. The containers are smashed into little pieces and stacked on top of each other like a scrap yard, all sitting on top of each other."
Three containers, with cargo intact, were recovered; four were retrieved but were empty of contents; another seven were recovered in pieces; the contents of the remaining 22 are presumed lost to sea.
Mr Curly said salvors were struggling to piece together how many containers made up the debris or where on the ship's manifest they featured.
Each container was marked with a number, which correlated with the manifest. Because the containers had been broken into so many pieces, tracing their origins was practically impossible, Mr Curly said.
"The containers and debris have been smashed up so much that they don't appear as a piece of anything. They've been broken into hundreds of pieces.
"It's like a graveyard down there. We can't identify which containers come from which container hold."
The washing-machine effect on the reef was so significant that any remaining cargo or non-metal debris had been washed away, Mr Curly said.
"All we are finding is fish and metal."
Tourism Bay of Plenty chief executive Rhys Arrowsmith said the stigma of Rena that affected much of the region's tourism last summer appeared to have gone.
"This summer season has by all indications been fantastic with stunning weather and temperatures. With a multitude of events the Bay of Plenty has seen very good numbers of visitors into the region and both the Rena and last year's ordinary weather is fading with time."
But he said the news of contaminants in the Bay's "stunning environment" was disappointing.
"However, the news of its isolation to the immediate exclusion area of the Rena and that neither the fish life nor those who enjoy our waters were affected should give comfort to visitors to the Bay of Plenty region," he said.
Nevan Lancaster, who runs Mt Cats and Yaks, was severely affected by Rena last summer but things appeared to be picking up, he said.
"I'm up on the Rena Year quite dramatically but still down on 2010, not a huge amount.
"I'm having what I'd call an average summer."
Mr Lancaster said customer feedback about Rena indicated people had forgotten about the grounding.
"They sort of say it's history now and we are sort of rebuilding and starting to get new ones [customers] in."
The important thing was to try to re-establish the regular, repeat visitors to the Bay who chose somewhere else during last year's summer, Mr Lancaster said.
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