M/V Rena Spill: Day 19 (MZ Day 10)

Kia ora everyone!

Things here in Tauranga are going very well since I posted last, though there is never enough hours in the day to get everything done. I never realized how much not having internet access in my hotel room cuts back on my capacity to blog, but it’s hard to do with filleted salmon smolts in one hand and a ravenous oiled little blue penguin in the other…

Courtesy Cameron Spencer / Getty Images

On to news. Probably the most notable activity here in the past five days (aside from the ongoing cleanup and wildlife effort) has been our host country’s rabid following of the Rugby World Cup finals (held in Auckland), where the All Blacks of NZ met and defeated France. Curt Clumpner of Bird Rescue has a great descriptor of the evenings activities his blog (posted here), but the lead up to the final has been almost as amazing. Everywhere you went were banners on vehicles, supporting ads in storefronts (yes, they made me take a day off on Saturday so I was able to do a bit of a walkabout), and full-page newspaper photos. Cheers to the All Blacks and all the kiwis for their victory!

M/V Rena Command Centre

Since I have written last, I have been back and forth a bit both at the facility as well as the ICC (Command Centre), filling in where needed and trying to remain useful. For background (and to add local color, or colour here), the ICC is being housed in a large, unused supermarket in downtown Tauranga – odd to be walking about with “fresh chicken” signs still on the walls and pylons set up to keep responders from walking into parts of the floor where freezers used to be kept. All the different sections are sitting in different groups just like all ICCs I have been involved with, however people are much more polite and there isn’t the same level of frantic tension that I have come to expect. In fact, last night I had drinks, and this evening dinner, with the NOSC (National Oil Spill Coordinator) for Maritime New Zealand – a great person who also spent a month at Deepwater Horizon and we were able to compare our experiences there with this unfolding response. The biggest downside I can see is the definite lack of coffee availability onsite – just Nescafe inside and a small espresso cart outside (and in writing this maybe the lower caffeine availability leads to a calmer response….hmmmm).

At the ICC, our Wildlife table is the largest one in the facility, with between 14-16 people all working on the field and facility planning and management for the response. We also have additional staff at the facility doing logistics and operational deployments for field teams, as well as the HR, logistics and media issues at for the facility. The wildlife team are a great group of people – a combination of Massey University, Department of Conservation, and responder staff working together to manage the more than 140 people currently responding for wildlife in field and facility ops. I’ve been fortunate to work side-by-side with Kerri Morgan and Helen McConnell of Massey and Barbara of Bird Rescue, and have been involved with developing plans for long-term housing for penguins (so they can be kept until the risk of re-oiling is past), capture criteria for fur seals, helping to find and acquire appropriate fish for post-wash care (fish that is small enough to allow individual feeding yet has a low enough oil content to not cause fouling of the pools), updating the Incident Action Plan detailing the field operational plan for the Bay of Plenty, and a host of other planning activities. Good learning experience and good work being done.

Intake at the M/V Rena Wildlife Centre

Alternately, I have also been busy working into the animal care side at the facility, working in concert with the Massey and Bird Rescue staff as well as the local responders and “vollies” – primarily in oiled bird holding. As I said previously, the facility is composed primarily of marquees which hold birds that are not being left in pools. Most of these marquees have had ducted heating added to manage heat through masterful engineering from Bill Dwyer and his staff, allowing oiled birds to be kept at adequate temperatures. Much of our activities in this area revolve around getting the birds strong enough to withstand wash and making sure they are approved in a rapid manner to move on to cleaning. This has been somewhat of a challenge due to initial weight loss causing us to move from the typical activity of feeding slurry mixtures via stomach tube to force-feeding fish – a more time-intensive and messy proposition due to larger salmon smolts needing to be cut prior to feeding. However, the evidence of success is the birds themselves, and their weights have been coming up well and birds are definitely more fit entering wash, making it worth the results of salmon guts being flung into your face regularly.

As the numbers of oiled birds coming into the facility declines (which we hope is an ongoing trend, but are watching the daily report from the salvers on the ship carefully), we are seeing more and more birds who have been washed and are needing time being reintroduced into pools to regain waterproofing. Since I last wrote, that now encompasses a tremendous effort – seven pools, four tents and many people zipping back and forth from pool to pen to pool to allow the more than 200 clean little blue penguins time to return to normal condition. Julie, Michelle and Dee of Bird Rescue and Bridey of Massey have done a heroic job getting them back into shape in less-than-ideal conditions. The plan is now to begin to move them into one of several 7 x 9 m penguin enclosures (each of which has a pool and appropriate haul out areas) that will allow long-term holding in relatively low maintenance environments until the fate of the M/V Rena becomes more clear. Stay tuned on this effort…

Again, the ghost of volunteer coordinators past is reminding me that I am far too wordy for my own good so I will sign off for now. I’ll touch on other areas, including the field ops and dotterel holding/capture, in my next treatise.

– Mike

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