Yesterday I was on Motiti Island, where the hapu have borne the brunt of the oil and debris from the grounded Rena. You can clearly see the Rena really from the coast. The hapu are extremely well organised with clean-up crews. They have all the protective gear and they are sending teams out every day.
They took me on a trip around the coastline, with the safety officer and team leaders to check for oil and debris. There were lots of stranded containers and timber piled up on unreachable rocks. But, for the time being at least, on the surface it was pretty clean.
Under the surface is a very different story.
Under the surface kina are blackened and dead. Crayfish are found smothered in oil and dead. Under the surface, the fish and shellfish are polluted and cannot be eaten.
Under the surface of this disaster are the families who eat everyday from the ocean but cannot anymore.
John Key talks of compensation for business, tourism and the fishing industry, and rightly so. Peoples’ livelihoods are in peril and financial support is needed. That is the right thing to do.
But what about those hundreds of families on low incomes who supplement their meagre incomes with the bounty of the sea? There are hundreds of families on minimum wages or benefits or superannuation who cannot afford seafood, so they get it straight out of the ocean—as is their birthright.
That is how the ocean is used by coastal communities every day in this country: as a daily source of fresh healthy food.
So, who will compensate their food budgets?
Does John Key understand that his failure to take the warnings seriously means that families have lost a food source on which they and their kids depend?
No, he clearly does not. His glib comment that this will be all ‘over by Christmas’ underlines his shallowness.
The shellfish could take many months to recover back to a healthy, safe state. They are filter feeders and there will have to be rigorous on-going testing of shellfish beds all along the coast and on every island and reef. The cost to the fish stocks is unknown, as is the impact on the phytoplankton at the beginning of the food chain. It could be months before the shellfish can be declared safe to eat. That means months without this food for those who rely on it.
On Motiti, throughout the day, the clean-up crews were well feed and cared for. That is the way of manakitanga and for coastal peoples, kuia and kaumatua, seafood is a source of pride and richness.
John Key has an irresponsibly shallow understanding of the consequences of his failure.