by Catherine Delahunty
Green Party member Renee Annan and I drove into the car park at Maketu Surf Club. Clumps of people were wandering around and there was a small pile of contaminated sand bags on the edge of the beach. We had no idea how bad the problems were at Maketü but we figured talking to the locals would be a good start. They invited us to a hui at the marae where locals were signing up for a special experiment, the cleaning of the rocky shore with Canadian sphagnum moss.
Tanya, the marine biologist from Massey, explained how it worked to clean the rocks in a single application and was an organic peat product. The company that makes the product (Spillsorb) was offering it at wholesale price to Maketü locals. I was thinking that Maritime NZ and the Government need to assess it and if anybody was paying it should be the Crown, not a small marae in a small community dedicated to cleaning up the coast.
We struggled into the white overalls, plastic bag feet and gloves and followed Tanya down to the nearest rocky shore. At first sight the place looked relatively untouched. Then we looked closer, large and small splashes of jet black oil were everywhere in the rocks and seaweed. The sea was slimy with oil sheen. We placed the sawdust like peat moss on the splashes of oil and waited for about two minutes per rock. Then we scraped the moss and oil into dough and bagged it. The peat moss worked brilliantly but there was no end to the amount of work to be done. It was hard to know whether to do every rock perfectly or whether to focus on the big patches. Rain came and went and the locals just kept going. For these Te Arawa people the coast is the kitchen and there is no question they will keep cleaning it up.
After a few hours we headed back to Papamoa to hear John Key speak. Nothing new was learned but people were muttering about any number of issues associated with delays and costs and rules of navigation. We met Kevin Hague on his way to the Marine Wildlife Centre where the dead outnumber the living birds. The locals at Maketu were very worried about their shag colony. Greenpeace were parked on the side of the road organising for a weekend of volunteer beach cleaning.
I also ran into the Minsiter for the Environment and asked him to look at the Spillsorb option and if they are going to use it to make sure the Crown pays, not the community. On our way back to a mining meeting in Waihi we called in to Waihi Beach. All looked untouched although locals said an oily penguin had been rescued. The currents are threatening the southern communities. Te Arawa and Ngati Awa are preparing for the worst.
We are all praying they can get the oil off that ship before she breaks, enough damage has been done.