Rena wreck - a perspective revisited.

With one Iwi (Maori tribe NZ) now saying the mauri (Maori:life force) of the reef has been restored, other Iwi are sticking fast to wanting the entire wreck removed, a possibly life endangering exercise. We thought it timely to re-post our own submission made in respect of the Rena grounding on the Astrolab reef, NZ, oft described as New Zealand's worst polluting maritime disaster.


The Wharf Hub

1 High Street,

Opotiki NZ

027 350 4910


Responding to Rena grounding.

To Whom It May Concern,

At this time we in the Bay of Plenty face an environmental crisis that is significant even by World standards. While we can still cautiously go and catch a feed of fish out from Opotiki, others in the Western Bay have lost significant fishing spots and container debris is likely to contaminate our waters for decades to come.

A very small experiment in ‘seabed enhancement’ was begun with some help from Environment Bay of Plenty Enhancement Funding a few years ago. Until then reef building in New Zealand had largely been the result of accidental or deliberate sinking of ships. (John Booth – NIWA Report to Minster of Environment 2000)

A quick glance at the deployments made out from Opotiki and one would see some odd concrete shapes on the seabed with marine life attached. A seemingly unspectacular effort perhaps, indeed some have even asked “Why not just chuck some old concrete and car bodies overboard?” such is the materialistic view many hold.

Our World is being challenged as never before. Yes we enjoy rugby but our priorities are called to account when Government announces the extra $45 million spent on the World Cup as money well worth it and then on the same day the Opotiki News reports on Environment Bay Of Plenty’s calls for people to donate because ‘Coast care group needs cash for oil cleanup’. Collecting donations to fix our environment is surely a woefully inadequate response to a significant event that will potentially impact on not just the marine life, but on people’s lives for a long time to come.

It is little wonder that the Rev Maori Marsden was moved to write his 1992 epistle ‘KAITIAKITANGA, A Definitive Introduction to the Holistic World View of the Maori’ outlining the Maori perspective so that the section of the Resource Management Act dealing with Kaitiakitanga could be understood better by non Maori. In his view “Westerners focus on the ‘how’ or immediate ‘why’ of events but seldom concern themselves with the ‘ultimate why’ of such occurrences.

There are though many non Maori who also hold very long term and deeper World views, often based on the spiritual teachings to be found within World religious texts, teachings that also outline mankind’s role is to work with nature and be as guardians of the environment. I find no disparity and for the sake of achieving action in this matter I speak of things metaphysical using the commonly understood terminology of Maori, both because they are such excellent descriptors and also because they are used in New Zealand Environment law.

It is contended that there are many things that can cause a decline in marine life. Physically over harvesting is the one commonly given attention, but equally the life force (Mauri) of marine species calls to be considered, especially as it is incorporated into the NZ Resources Management Act.

Black oil on a white sand beach is very observable and elicits a reactive response from us all. Most environmental degradation is not so easily seen and is seldom noticed because of a phenomenon commonly known as ‘the creeping baseline’. The immediate cleaning of beaches and oil from birds is important, but responding with longer term remedial actions are considered equally so.

The real application of the seabed enhancement reefs (also known as man initiated reefs) was the inculcation of both connection (whakapapa) and spirit (wairua) into the project. In this respect we believe it is quite unique, in that it offers both a physical way adding much needed habitat to the seabed and creating a channel by which the life force (Mauri Ora) of the oceans can be enhanced.

Fishing was once regarded as a ‘tapu’ or sacred activity. Captain Cook’s journals record the preparations, particularly the karakia and fasting, that preceded fishing expeditions by ‘the natives’. Today wise fishermen still know their attitudes on the sea is as important as the hooks and bait they use.

Iwi have in the past contended that such things as fishing competitions and scuttling ships have no place in our waters because they hold the moana with a sense of sacredness. Such protests have been overwhelmed by the force of a dominate culture who place high value on competition, speed and quick fixes.

A simple hilly pasture landslip takes over 80 years to repair. An event of the magnitude of the wrecking of the Rena on the Astrolabe reef will have an impact far beyond the physical dislocation of marine life on the rocks and spilling of oil and toxic chemicals onto surrounding marine life. To merely sit back and say volunteers and nature are great at cleaning up, is in this writers view short sighted and does not display an understanding of how our Universe operates nor an appreciation of the holistic views advocated within the Resource Management Act.

There are many tools and personnel available to those invested with the authority to be making appropriate responses to the grounding of the container ship Rena. All I can do here to offer our experiences and developments as one way to helping counter the environmental and fisheries degradation that we foresee resulting from the Rena grounding.

It may have been a very small and largely unnoticed undertaking, but reef building Kiwi style was clearly a purposeful activity focussed not just on deploying complex enhancing structure on the seabed but equally on regenerating the mauri of the sea.

Everything has its time and place. I believe now is the time to consider offering affected communities the option of building community reefs for the following reasons:-

  • The community spirit and caring for the marine environment is self evident from the numbers volunteering with the clean up.The volunteers did not create the mess.Their good will has been drawn on by an act of irresponsible negligence.A mere passing “Oops, sorry about that” from those responsible is totally insufficient. For the well being of the volunteers, the imbalance created needs to be addressed and acknowledged in a practical way. (Principle of utu or reciprocity, assertiveness)

  • Community reef building offers many benefits, good fishing, petrol savings, long term community wealth creation, and an opportunity for community input into a small area of localised marine life.

  • Much oil will find its way onto the seabed. What better response than to undertake ‘seabed enhancement’ as a response. The concept and practicalities have already been achieved in the Bay of Plenty off Opotiki.

  • Scientific guidance may say that leaving the rocky Astrolabe Reef alone to regenerate is preferable, but reef building in ecological poorer sand-silt seabed areas can act as marine nurseries and give locals something constructive and positive in which to rebuild their mana following the Rena grounding.

  • One simple acknowledgement could be to place each volunteers name on a reef module, with the construction and deployment cost preferably being picked up by those responsible or those entrusted with environmental responsibilities such as Regional Council or Department of Conservation.

  • Reef building offers Rena shipping owners and operators a tangible avenue to do something positive to restore both the fishing grounds lost and goodwill with those affected.

It is recorded that kaumatua accurately foretold the decline of toheroa once commercial canning of this once abundant shellfish began. Greed saw the sudden catastrophic decline of the Atlantic cod that had sustained Europe for centuries. Until recently local Ohiwa Harbour mussels covered many hectares and are now largely all gone. It is noted that once species suffer collapse, recovery can be painfully slow unless we intervene and assist nature. Let us not become ‘The Bay of Empty’ as one headline last year referred to the absence of tuna in the BOP.

No doubt community reef building would be a significant and complex undertaking that would call for a collaborative effort and undertaking. I can but urge those invested with capacity not to be as the Captain of the Rena and leave our marine life on a collision course. The time for considering a change in direction is now. I stand with others, ready to assist in any way we can.

Yours sincerely,

Lloyd Hosken

The Wharf Hub

and REAF (Recreating Enhanced Areas for Fish)

#oil #pollution #shipreefs

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