Action needed to protect marine wildlife from risk of devastating oil spill

Posted on 07 October 2011

WWF is deeply concerned for marine wildlife threatened by the spreading oil spill from container ship Rena, currently stuck on the Astrolabe Reef off Tauranga.
New Zealand: WWF is deeply concerned for marine wildlife threatened by the spreading oil spill from container ship Rena, currently stuck on the Astrolabe Reef off Tauranga. The vessel is reported to be carrying about 1700 tonnes of fuel, and if it breaks up has the potential to become New Zealand's largest oil spill.

Several dead birds have been found nearby the stricken vessel, and wildlife response teams are being mobilised.

WWF-New Zealand Marine Programme Manager Rebecca Bird said: "We are concerned for wildlife at risk from the spill, particularly seabirds such as shearwaters and petrels. Preventing the vessel from breaking up and disgorging its fuel and cargo is clearly the priority, as a spill of that scale would be a disaster for wildlife, and for the people of Tauranga."

She said containing the spill quickly was critically important: "In similar situations, using booms to contain the spill and protecting sensitive areas such as coastlines from being contaminated has proved effective. We are talking to the authorities handling the spill to see how we can support their efforts."

The impact of oil on marine wildlife, such as seabirds, whales and dolphins, can be devastating. This marine region is home to common and bottlenose dolphins, seals, orcas, beaked whales, along with 10 different species of tern and a concentration of gannets. Large baleen whales also migrate through this area.

Maritime New Zealand is preparing for an on-water operation to collect heavy fuel oil that has spilled from the container ship Rena, and also plans to continue to use the controversial dispersant Corexit, similar to that used in the Gulf of Mexico.

Layla Hughes, Senior Programme Officer for Oil, Gas and Shipping at WWF-US's Alaska office, cautioned the use of dispersants: "Whilst every situation is different, and we support the efforts of those involved in containing the spill, we caution the use of dispersants - they don't remove the oil, and there are a lot of unanswered questions about their environmental impacts."

WWF sincerely hopes this incident does not become a tragedy for a region with such high marine biodiversity values that supports wildlife, commercial and recreational fishing and scuba diving, water sports and tourism.


ENDS


For more information, please contact:
Jenny Riches, WWF Communications Manager, tel: 04 471 4288, mob: 0274 477158
Container port on the North Sea, Antwerp, Belgium.
Container Ship
© WWF / Michel GUNTHER