Rena impacts under the microscope
13 June 2012
A team of marine experts from the University of Canterbury has joined scientists from around the country to begin a New Zealand first study into the impact on the environment of the grounding of the containership MV Rena.
The Coastal Monitoring part of the programme is being led by Professor David Schiel, who said the UC Marine Ecology Research Group will be assessing legacy effects of oil on rocky reefs and soft shores and any lingering impacts on marine communities. Potential effects include sub-lethal impacts on species, such as in their reproduction and growth, and retention of oil by-products in their flesh. Particular concern will be on kai moana species consumed by humans.
“Various microbes colonise oil as it weathers in the sea so the programme will be assessing how the development of these microbial communities and how the chemicals from the oil track through the ecosystem. This is very important because the kai moana makes up a substantial part of the diet of a number of Maori communities in the area so we will be working closely with iwi.”
The wider monitoring programme, of which Professor Schiel will help oversee, will experimentally examine the weathering of bunker oil and potential mechanisms for its by-products to progress up the food chain.
“This is a great opportunity for our students to participate in a hopefully one-off project of great national importance,” said Professor Schiel, who added that several studentships will be offered.
The overall monitoring project, known as Te Māuri Moana, is being led by Professor Chris Battershill, Waikato University Chair of Bay of Plenty Coastal Science. As well as researchers from the University of Canterbury, the wider team includes academics and students from the University of Waikato, the Bay of Plenty Polytechnic and Te Whare Wānanga o Awanuiārangi.
“By working collaboratively we have been able to utilise the expertise of academics nationwide. We have been able to align our work to existing studies and have developed innovative approaches to achieve a comprehensive environmental monitoring programme,” said Professor Battershill.
Maori perspectives are also being integrated into the research with leadership and input from local iwi and Te Whare Wānanga o Awanuiārangi.
“Since the grounding of the Rena we have been working very closely with iwi to capture traditional environmental knowledge (Mātauranga Māori) and ensure cultural values are respected. This has been beneficial and is a model we plan to continue with,” Professor Battershill said.
Rena Recovery Manager Catherine Taylor said the project is one of the biggest pieces of work within the Rena Recovery programme.
“We expect this research will produce some fascinating data on how several parts of the environment have recovered following the release of oil, containers and their contents,” she said.
She said the project was creating a new level of scientific research in the Bay of Plenty which has national relevance.
“A New Zealand coastline has never been through this level of pollution before so what we discover will be ground-breaking in understanding the resilience of New Zealand environments,” she said.
Ms Taylor said that regular updates will be provided to inform the community of results from these studies. A full write-up of most projects will be completed by early 2013.
Those who want to keep up to date with Rena Recovery information can visit www.renarecovery.org.nz.
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