First anniversary of Rena disaster; support for two restoration projects

News from World Wildlife Fund
WWF-New Zealand is marking next week’s first anniversary of the Rena shipping disaster by announcing its support for two important projects to help with the continuing work to restore the Bay of Plenty.

In the wake of the 236m long, 47,000 tonne container ship spewing 350 tonnes of heavy fuel oil into the bay, WWF- New Zealand joined forces with The Tindall Foundation to help raise $60,000 for the Bay of Plenty Restoration Fund. WWF is now allocating funds to conservation groups working in the area.

The first two recipients are The Maketu Ongatoro Wetland Society, which will receive $18,000 over the next two years, and Wildbase, Massey University, which will get $20,000 over two years.

The Maketu Ongatoro Wetland Society has developed the Little Waihi and Otamarakau Estuary Habitat Protection and Restoration Project that protects local estuaries, dunes and wetlands, and the indigenous species that live there such as New Zealand dotterels. The project will raise awareness of the importance of these habitats and the need to protect them, and seek to engage local people in these conservation activities. The funds from WWF will be combined with matched funding from BOP Regional Council, the Regional Council’s Environmental Enhancement Fund, the Rena Recovery Fund, the Western Bay of Plenty District Council and funding from The Bay Trust.

Chairman Julian Fitter said: “Our work is done by volunteers or contractors, but both groups need management and planning. With WWF help we are able to plan and are developing a programme to encourage corporate volunteers to take part in this exciting project.”

Wildbase, formerly the Oiled Wildlife Response Unit, will be evaluating the survival and breeding success of little blue penguins at Mauao (Mount Maunganui) and Moturiki (Leisure Island) that were oiled and rehabilitated, and micro-chipped before being released back into the wild, some originally captured by WWF staff. These will be compared with a control sample of about 250 birds which were believed to be unaffected by the spill.

WWF is currently negotiating a funding agreement with a third project. This will be finalised in the near future.

Marc Slade, WWF-New Zealand’s Terrestrial Conservation Manager, said: “The response from the local community to this disaster has been outstanding, but we are acutely aware that the effort to restore the ecological health of this area will need our support long after all the oil on the beaches is gone. That’s why we have also been encouraged by the tremendously generous response from our supporters, and by the quality of the projects that have come forward for funding. It’s great to be able to announce the first two to receive this support, with a third to be announced very soon.”