Tauranga oil spill reminder of harm

A fuel spill that has coated at least one shag in oil and marred Tauranga Harbour shows how damaging offshore oil and gas exploration could be to the environment.

At least one shag has been found with its body coated in oil from the spill, and teams have been out assessing the environmental impact.

The oil that washed up on the Tauranga Harbour waterfront this week is only a small amount compared to the potential from a deep-sea oil drilling spill, which would have a major impact on wildlife, beaches and estuaries.

It’s been five years since the devastating Deepwater Horizon blowout and spill in the Gulf of Mexico, but the impact on wildlife is still being felt today. Even relatively low concentrations of oil damage fish embryos and larvae, and cause developmental abnormalities. Around 400 species of marine mammals, birds and invertebrates are still threatened by the oil that gushed from the spill, with mutations and birth defects reported in younger individuals.

We can’t afford for an oil spill to wreak havoc on our wildlife.

Around New Zealand, the National Government has offered up offshore areas for exploration that include the habitat of Maui’s dolphin – of which there are only 55 adults left in the world. If there were to be a spill there, it could have a major impact on the species.

Seismic surveys for oil exploration are also problematic as they have been linked to fatal whale, dolphin and giant squid strandings. Dr Lindy Weilgart, an international expert on the impacts of seismic surveys on marine life says they, “can cause dolphins to avoid important habitats, can interfere with their food finding, reproduction, resting, and hearing sounds vital to their survival, and cause stress effects. All these can have serious impacts on the welfare of these populations and the welfare of their prey.”

Crews clean up oil following the Rena disaster. | Photo: jeanfrancois beausejour on Flickr. CC BY 2.0

Crews clean up oil following the Rena disaster. | Photo: jeanfrancois beausejour on Flickr. CC BY 2.0

When the Rena ran aground off the Bay of Plenty coast, the impact was overwhelming. Some 2000 dead birds were found, and up to 20,000 birds are thought to have been killed. Taxpayers paid nearly  $48 million in the aftermath of the disaster.

We can’t afford for an oil spill to wreak havoc on our wildlife. Protecting our marine environment and our climate requires an end to National’s risky strategy of promoting and subsidising deep sea oil exploration.