Seven little blue penguins were released today, marking the last major release of wildlife affected by the Rena oil spill.
The penguins were all Motiti Island birds and had been cared for at Massey University, where the National Oiled Wildlife Response Team established a wildlife cleaning and rehabilitation facility following the decommissioning of the Te Maunga wildlife site last month.
The birds were released near Motiti Island from a boat by members of the oiled wildlife team.
Team co-ordinator Kerri Morgan said the event was expected to be the last release of multiple birds rescued and treated for oiling.
"We still have two birds in care at Massey - one has an injury and the other is going through its moult. We will release those birds back into the Bay of Plenty when their health allows it, but the release of the seven Motiti birds this morning is probably the last release we will see of multiple treated birds."
Members of the team arrived in Tauranga on October 5, just hours after the container ship ran aground on Astrolabe Reef off the Bay of Plenty coast, in line with national oil spill response emergency planning.
The first wildlife release was held on November 22 and since then, birds have been released back into the wild as their health and their habitats have been signed off as ready by wildlife experts.
At the height of the response, more than 400 birds were being cared for at Te Maunga.
Miss Morgan said wildlife responders from all around the country had assisted with the response, and teams had been in the field checking for affected wildlife since the first days after Rena grounded.
She paid tribute to the supporting agencies and individuals who had assisted in the response.
"We have worked very much in partnership with the Department of Conservation, which has been instrumental in mounting an effective and comprehensive response," Miss Morgan said.
Miss Morgan said it had been hard work, particularly at the height of the response when the sheer numbers of sick and dead birds being collected was at times overwhelming. A total of 2299 dead birds were collected during the response, 1443 of which were oiled.
"We know this work takes a lot out of people and we do want to acknowledge the wonderful commitment and dedication the entire team has put into this response."
National On Scene Commander Mick Courtnell said the oil spill response was continuing with around 60-70 people in the field every day assessing the coastline and cleaning residual oil.
"It's important to recognise that while the bulk of the oil is safely off Rena and the bulk of the oil spilled has been cleaned up, we still face a threat from the wreck, in the form of a few pockets of oil that the salvors can not reach," Mr Courtnell said.
Meanwhile, work is continuing on removing the cargo from the Rena.
Fifteen containers were removed from the aft section on Wednesday and Thursday and helicopter operations to remove cut up pieces of containers were continuing.
Dive operations would continue around the submerged stern section of the wreck.
In total, 514 containers have been recovered from Rena by salvors and processed ashore by Braemar Howells. A further 70 containers have been recovered from land and sea by Braemar Howells teams, making the total ashore now 584.