From Rena to the Solomons: Tauranga oil spill experts to head to the Pacific
Wednesday, 05 Jun 2019
Two of Tauranga's top scientists are taking their Rena oil spill knowledge with them to assist in a similar situation in the Solomon Islands.
A large ship ran aground in February and began leaking oil next to a UNESCO World Heritage site called Rennell Island in the Solomon Islands.
Australian experts estimated hundreds of tonnes of oil had leaked into the sea and shoreline in the ecologically delicate area.
Toi Ohomai Social and Cultural researcher Sarah Lockwood and University of Waikato marine ecologist Phil Ross will head to the Solomon Islands within the next few weeks to help determine the ongoing impacts of the spill.
The pair were both heavily involved in the Rena response in 2011.
Both Australia and New Zealand have sent experts to the Solomon Islands to help with the clean-up and monitoring of the oil spill and the potential salvage of the ship.
The Hong Kong-flagged ship was chartered by the Bintan Mining company in the Solomon Islands to carry bauxite, which is used in aluminium production.
The ship's insurance company was paying for the international response, because the Solomon Island Government was not in a position to fund this.
Phil says it was a great demonstration of the "Pacific partnership".
His tasks at the site would be sampling the fresh water, collecting sealife to analyse and investigating the state of the coral reefs.
His main role would be to determine the ecological impact and health of the surrounding environment. He would be staying in a tent on the edge of the jungle for three weeks, which he says was "right up his alley".
Phil says their past experience put them in good stead to be able to anticipate and solve problems that may arise.
He says with the Rena, many responders did not anticipate the problems that would later occur, such as the effect of peeling hull paint.
Resolve Marine Group, which played a large part in salvaging the Rena, had worked to patch up the ship off the Solomon Islands which was able to be refloated.
However, clean-up work and monitoring was still needed.
Phil says it is vital to highlight these impacts at a government level to stop spills happening again.
He says people to this day were still affected by the Rena spill, with Tauranga residents occasionally contacting the Coastal Marine Field Station with ongoing concerns.
Sarah, who primarily studied the social and cultural impacts, would be looking into the effect the spill would have on the local people and culture of nearby islands.
She says the people of Rennell Island would be detrimentally impacted by the spill, because they did not have sufficient access to the mainland and relied on the waters and seafood. The long-term impact would be profound.
Sarah would write up an impact report from the spill for litigation against the ship.
The pair would also both be training responders.
Sarah says it’s clear the social impact almost a decade on was still strong and Tauranga locals were still "hurt" by the Rena grounding.
Phil is already at the site and Sarah will leave on the 8th of June.