Early morning at Mount Maunganui, Mauao wrapped in sea flog. It doesn’t take long to find the stained sands and scattered particles of the oil spill black against the pale sands. People are standing and looking or scraping oil particles into buckets. The Maritime New Zealand call to register as a volunteer has been tried but people won’t wait for a phone call they are on the beach doing what they think is right. At least most of them are wearing gloves and collecting the oil stained sand into tidy sacks.
The call for training and working under supervision is understandable, but after talking with people I can see they will not wait to be asked to come and help, they will just do it. It might be good if Maritime NZ trained them on the spot because they will just keep on coming down to clean their beaches.
I have no intention of getting dirty but once you are there surrounded by the oil stained beach there is a compulsion to act. The official and the unofficial volunteers all work together and co-operate. People are making friends and grieving for their coast. People are angry and cynical about the four days of fine weather and now the predictable storm damage impacting on the Rena. “Let’s sue the Greek Government,” someone says, we all laugh.
The gloves and gumboots are essential, the work is endless and this is just the beginning. I talk to a woman and her twelve-year-old son who have driven down from Auckland to lend a hand. I talk to surfies, artists, and a Scottish film crew who are making seven documentaries on oil spills. They have seen this everywhere which is a frightening thought.
Some hours later and the sea fog thickens, the news has come that a Mayday call led to an evacuation of Rena. No one is surprised, people just keep scraping in the soft rain.
My oily gloved hand is shaken by people who are pleased to see me.
“An MP down here with us in our community, Good on the Greens for asking questions, it is really good to see you here”
Later on at the press conference the mood is very sober. Gareth arrives to carry on the Green work, Russel is coming tomorrow. I will be back.. The local Greens are a steady presence supporting us.
It is a community ready to work and I am glad to have been there on day six. But it’s also sad and terrible. What will tomorrow bring to this beach?