Jamie Morton is the NZ Herald's science reporter.

Rena: Victory for army heroes

Army personnel clean up oil on Papamoa Beach. Photo / Alan Gibson
Army personnel clean up oil on Papamoa Beach. Photo / Alan Gibson

They've been dubbed the unsung heroes of the Rena disaster - the men and women who helped save summer for Tauranga when the city was bracing for the loss of its tourist-pulling beaches during its busiest season.

After more than a month at the front line, most of the New Zealand Defence Force personnel have headed home.

They played a major part in removing more than 922 tonnes of sandy waste from oil-tainted shores and islands.

And Tauranga Mayor Stuart Crosby says the city will not forget them.

"We could not have cleaned our beaches up without them," he said. "Without their hard work, our beaches would still be closed and would still have significant amounts of oil on them - they are the real heroes from my perspective."

Army trucks became a common sight in Tauranga - especially in the worst days of the disaster when residents were reduced to tears by the blackened state of their beaches.

Nearly 500 defence force staff toiled alongside hundreds of volunteers and contract workers in the beach clean-up effort.

They scrubbed rocks and sifted out tar-like oil balls at Mt Maunganui, Papamoa, Rabbit Island, Leisure Island and Matakana Island, where they removed 10 tonnes of oily waste.

"Defence Force personnel have been a part of the Rena response from day one and they've been absolutely fantastic," Maritime New Zealand operations manager Scott Read said.

RNZAF warrant officer Steve McCutcheon described the work as "messy hard work that just needs to be done", but said the public response had been really positive.

The Defence Force contribution to the response went further than the beaches.

Vessels such as the HMNZS Endeavour and aircraft including Seasprite and Iroquois helicopters and C130 Hercules flew in supplies, transported salvage experts and provided assistance in the event of search and rescue operations.

Mr Crosby also paid tribute to the salvors on board the Rena.

"They've just done an amazing job as well. Sure, they're professionals, but without their professionalism, we'd be in serious trouble."

Lucky escape for Bay environment

A university oceanographer says the region has "dodged a bullet" after oil from the Rena washed up in the best places possible.

Dr Willem de Lange of the University of Waikato has been studying the effects of winds and currents on the 350 tonnes of oil that leaked onto Bay of Plenty beaches and rocky shores.

"Thankfully, oil from Rena has had a relatively low impact ... and is yet to be found in any estuaries in large quantities."

He said estuaries were very difficult to clean and when oil fouled vegetation, it was almost impossible to clean.

- NZ Herald

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