Kerre McIvor

Kerre McIvor is a Herald on Sunday columnist

Kerre Woodham: Black sea of grief after Rena oil spill

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It is pointless for authorities to tell residents to leave the clean-up to the experts. Photo / BOP Times
It is pointless for authorities to tell residents to leave the clean-up to the experts. Photo / BOP Times

It's official. The grounding of the Rena on the Astrolabe Reef is New Zealand's worst marine environmental disaster.

It's been heartbreaking watching the Rena breaking up and I can understand the frustration and the fury of locals who have had to stand by helplessly as their beautiful coastline has been poisoned with ugly black oil and the flotsam from the containers that have washed off the vessel.

It was pointless for the authorities to tell residents to leave the clean-up job to the experts. For the people of the Bay of Plenty, this is their backyard; this is their sea and shore that is hurting - they were always going to do what they could to put right the damage.

Even people from further afield felt a responsibility. One of my callers rang from Papamoa Beach on Thursday night. He's from Auckland, but he's a keen diver and fisherman and has spent many happy days in the waters of the Bay of Plenty beaches, and he felt he had got so much enjoyment it was only right to give something back.

He was helping out.

More than 3000 people have registered as volunteers to help clear away the filthy black sludge that has spread itself from Waihi to Maketu, and they know they're in for the long haul. The oft-repeated phrase is this will be a marathon, not a sprint and, looking at the devastation to the coastline, you can see why.

As is typical, this crisis brought out the best in so many people, but also the armchair experts and their unhelpful suggestions.

Taking off the mine rescue co-ordinators' hats they wore during the Pike River coal mine disaster, many New Zealanders have become salvage experts. They should just drag her off the reef and tow her back to port, was a common suggestion. One febrile soul thought a state of emergency should be imposed on the greater Bay of Plenty region and couldn't understand why the Government was dragging the chain.

Another thought it was a Libyan terrorist plot to pay us back because we had soldiers in Afghanistan. When I pointed out the ship was registered in Liberia, not Libya, and the only terror generated would have been amongst the crew when they realised they'd parked their ship on a sodding great reef, the caller felt safer in her bed.

Implausible theories aside, New Zealanders love their beaches. We are all tangata moana. It is a cruel blow to a country that's had more than its fair share of misfortune over a 12-month period.

It will be a long and painful recovery period, but we're lucky the environment is so forgiving of human idiocy. There will come a time when the filth and the pollution will be a memory.

The public, though, are less forgiving. It might be a lot trickier for the National Government to sell its oil exploration policies now we have seen the damage just one small container ship can do. And mark my words - just watch the party vote for the Greens go up in the polls.

- Herald on Sunday

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