Increased levels of contamination on reef near wreck of Rena; testing to continue

News from Environment Bay of Plenty
Further sampling is a priority for Rena Recovery scientists who have confirmed there are elevated levels of contaminants close to the Rena wreck on Otaiti (Astrolabe Reef). The Rena Recovery monitoring team has recently gained greater access to the reef following over a year of dangerous salvage operations restricting access.

The team is now working hard to determine the significance of the contaminants, including any impact on marine life around the reef, and the best approach to address those impacts.

Professor Chris Battershill, University of Waikato Chair of Coastal Science, said that it had been expected that contaminants would be found at the ship wreck site and they are now working directly with the salvors to access the reef to collect more samples.

“Sediment samples have shown elevated levels of contaminants including copper and PAHs (polyaromatic hydrocarbons) which are known contaminants that were lost to sea from the Rena and its cargo.

“While we only have limited sampling information at this point, early indications are that the contamination is localised,” Professor Battershill said.

Dr Jim Miller, Bay of Plenty Medical Officer of Health, said that while the two nautical mile exclusion zone remains in place these results do not change current advice that there is no appreciable food safety risk from the Rena.

Resolve Salvage & Fire, appointed by the owners and insurers of the Rena, are using specialist heavy-lifting equipment to remove cargo, wreck and container debris over approximately 10,000 square metres from around the wreck. This work will enable scientists to undertake a more detailed study of the surface of the reef to help determine what if any contaminants remain trapped. Resolve will manage the removal of identified contaminants.

Professor Battershill said that the work is being carried out as quickly as possible but a full analysis would take time.

“We are working hard to get more information for the public as soon as we can. Once all the sampling, testing and analysis has taken place it is likely to be March when we will next be able to provide an update.”

Questions and answers:

Q: How long have you known about the contamination?

We have always expected that there would be some degree of contamination as a result of the oil spill and loss of container cargo. However, more recently we were able to collect initial sampling, and we reviewed and consulted on these results before Christmas. Further sampling is scheduled to get underway before the end of the month.

Q: What are you doing to clean up the contamination?

Resolve Salvage & Fire, appointed by the owners and insurers, will determine the appropriate options to remediate the affected areas. More sampling and testing is required first, including further removal of debris in areas we want to test, and we are now working closely with Resolve on this.

Q: Does contamination pose a risk to the swimming/boating/fishing public?

Not while the two nautical mile navigation zone is in place. The exclusion zone means that there is no fishing or collecting of shellfish in this area.

Q: Why have you started the testing over a year after the grounding?

Immediately after the grounding the first priority was on removal of containers and reduction of the wreck. We are now at the point that we are able to get safe access to the reef to begin sampling. Our assessment is also focused on long-term environmental recovery and we can now begin to assess this.

Q: Who is involved in the sampling programme?

The University of Waikato, Bay of Plenty Polytechnic, Te Whare Wānanga o Awanuiārangi and University of Canterbury are all a part of the Te Mauri Moana Tertiary Partnership that has been contracted to carry out the Rena Recovery Monitoring Programme. The programme aims to assess long-term environmental effects of the Rena grounding and monitor recovery. A focus of the programme is to assess kaimoana species and their marine habitats. Research and sampling carried out by the Rena Recovery Monitoring team is a statutory responsibility and we have made a commitment to the community to do this work on their behalf.

Press Release: SweeneyVesty
A dive survey to conduct an external visual assessment of the Rena’s sunken stern section and its cargo has now been completed. Early indications from the survey suggest that of the 36 remaining containers in the stern section carrying known contaminants, many have broken up and their contents have escaped since the vessel broke in two and sank.

Three containers, with cargo intact, were recovered; four were retrieved but were empty of contents; another seven were recovered in pieces; the contents of the remaining 22 are presumed lost to sea.

Captain John Owen of The Swedish Club said: “We have scientists from the Cawthron Institute working with the Rena Recovery Monitoring team to undertake further sampling and testing of water and sediment samples.

“This will then confirm possible solutions to remediate contaminated areas, currently known to be in close proximity to the wreck.”

The ship split in two in early January last year and salvage operations prior to that had been unable to reach the containers as they were in the lower holds and inaccessible. Of the 1368 containers carried on board at the time of the grounding, 1007 have been recovered.

Resolve is now using specialist heavy-lifting equipment to remove the large amounts of remaining cargo, wreck and container debris from an area approximately 10,000 square metres around the wreck. More than 256 tonnes of debris has been removed in the last month.

This work will enable scientists to undertake a more detailed study of the surface of the reef to help determine what if any contaminants remain trapped. Two containers of plastic beads possibly also remain trapped by scrap and debris within the stern section. Work to remove this debris will allow Resolve to determine how to deal with the beads and any identified contaminants.

Captain Owen says studies into the environmental, cultural, economic and safety impacts of the different options for dealing with the wreck are near complete. And that a further round of community consultation will be held in late February, before a final decision is made.

 

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