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Mission to Motiti: working with iwi to clean-up Rena’s oil


At 2.20am on Wednesday the 5th of October, the Liberian flagged MV Rena smashed into the Astrolabe Reef at full steam on its approach to the Port of Tauranga.

With over 350 tonnes of Heavy Fuel Oil and 88 containers already making their way into the Bay of Plenty, the Rena disaster has quickly become New Zealand’s biggest ever coastal clean-up.

This is the first major oil spill in our country and passionate Kiwis who love their coast soon made it clear to authorities that they were going to be a part of the clean-up whether they liked it or not. An Incident Command Centre was set-up in an old supermarket building, with experts from all over the world called-in, and our team charged with assisting with deployment of volunteers.

Globally this is the first time that volunteers have been utilised in the shoreline response for an oil spill. With over 7,400 registered and well over 50 clean-up events run so far, hard-working kiwis have proven their worth in front of an international audience.

Throughout the process the local Iwi have proven to be a real inspiration: their efforts have been a fantastic example of a motivated and cohesive community effort to restore the coastline that is so important for their heritage and culture.

Motiti Island sits only seven kilometres from the stricken Rena. Residents there have been faced with an enormous clean-up task as tonnes of rubbish from containers, all soaked in oil, has coated their precious island.

It came as no surprise to us, to learn that residents have been working every day since the Rena first hit. When locals Adam Desmond and Jay Reeve approached us wanting to help out at Motiti Island using their contacts and transportation, Iwi were very thankful for the support.

We worked together with local businesses and our passionate volunteer network to raise over $3,500 in only 3 days, and put together a 28-strong heavy operations crew that went out and relieved the thankful locals for a day.

The immediate support that the project received from many donors showed how quickly communities pull together to help those in need during a time of crisis. Special mention goes to Pure Advantage, Paez New Zealand, Ballance Agri-Nutrients, Bay City Cinemas, Craigs Investment Partners and the Brownrigg Family for their generous support.

We awoke Saturday morning to gentle sets rolling in on Papamoa Beach with a typically colourful East Coast sunrise as a backdrop. This was a welcome relief given the high winds of the previous evening which had cast some doubt on our ability to fly out at first light to Motiti, located 21 kilometres north east of Tauranga.

When we landed, the resident Motiti Island whanau were waiting to greet us and the Rena lurked nearby on the horizon in clear view. We were welcomed onto the marae with a moving pōwhiri and warm hospitality in preparation for the long day ahead.

After a karakia, island representatives led us to selected areas where the huge effort already put in by the residents became clear: there were massive piles of waste that had already been collected by a small team who had been working around the clock which we helped transport to areas for removal from the island. The daunting task ahead also hit home as we saw significant amounts of newly washed-up debris.

The work put in by our crew of volunteers was incredible: we finished ahead of time and managed to clean-up another beach on the island before returning to the marae for a huge feed (always a sign of appreciation) and goodbyes.

Massive thanks to everyone involved in turning this project into reality. It was a special day and locals were so thankful for our support that they have invited us back again.

Watch this space to get involved with another mission to Motiti, to help the area most in need get through this disaster. With the ship still stranded and the real potential for more oil and debris to litter our beaches, the challenge has just begun.