Field Theory by Hadyn Green

24

The Black Sand

This is not a post about rugby. Or sport of any kind. Which is pretty much what you should've expected from the sports blog on Public Address after the All Blacks made the final. This is a post about oil and a white sand beach.

I haven’t been swimming at Mount Beach for years. When the Rena ran aground and started to leak oil on the beach, it was all I wanted to do.

I lived at the Mount for first few years of my life, in the shadow of Mauau, before moving across the harbour to Tauranga. I have spent a lot of time at that beach, I got attacked by a dog there as a child, I got stoned in the dunes as a teenager and, well, other things too. I spent eighteen years of my life in that area before moving away for uni, this is my home town.

Then I hear things about shipping companies not feeling guilty and not taking responsibility, about insurance companies who have put limits on the amount they’ll pay out and politicians who seemingly keep telling us: “Don’t worry, she’ll be right, I’m sure they’ll pay us. Until then though you’ll have to foot the bill”. This gets me a little angry. Actually it made Hulk-mad. I had to go home.

I arrived at my Dad’s house and he showed me all the papers he had collected with the Rena on the front. While other newspapers are dominated with smiling All Blacks, the BOP Times keep showing the population a destroyed ship. This is more important to the people of Tauranga, right now, than the outcome of the World Cup. Yesterday’s paper had some sobering numbers:

  • 1346 tonnes of oil remain on the ship.
  • 350 tonnes has been lost into the ocean
  • 5000 volunteers are registered to help
  • 500 volunteers were used over the weekend at Papamoa and Maketu
  • 618 tonnes of oily sand removed
  • 181 live birds are being treated after being covered with oil
  • 1250 birds were found dead
  • $3.5million has already been spent on clean up.

I had to go to the beach.

The signs were clear: the main Mount beach was open, but the water was closed. This did not mean the beach was empty. The sun was shining for a time and there were quite a few tourists around and kids playing everywhere. Some rather clever person had written huge letters in the sand spelling out “Clean Me”.

The air was fresh and smelled like the sea. This is a contrast to previous days when, my Mum told me, the beach had stunk of oil. Walking along the soft white sand in the sunshine it was hard to fathom that an ecological disaster had occurred here. The waves were a wonderful blue green, birds (NZ dotterels, see the pics above) ran about on the sand and it just seemed like any other work-day when the beach wouldn’t be packed. The cafes were doing a great trade and only three hazard suited workers were seen.

They weren’t working today, but the beaches weren’t clean. On the open part of the main beach (for those who don’t know the main beach stretches from the Mount to the little spit of land known locally as Leisure Island) I found a lot of clumps of oil. Solid pancakes ranging from the size of a 50c piece to ones the size of my hand. The beach considered safe enough to open to the public was still contaminated.

The economic impact of this disaster, and let’s be clear that’s what this is, to Tauranga’s economy will be huge. Not only will The Mount potentially “lose the summer”, like Amity in Jaws, but the downstream impact on job creation in the area could be affected. The Port of Tauranga wants to dredge the harbour to allow even larger ships in, ships much bigger than Rena and with more oil on board, the exact type of ships people are scared of now. Understandably they are keeping their heads down, though ships are still coming and going, now much more noticeable on the horizon.

We drove down Marine Parade, stopping every now and again to take a look at the beach, but no oil could be seen from behind the “keep out” tape. The tape covered every path down to the beach; every official path. The dunes are filled with desire-lines, and walking down to the water is simple if you wanted to. Today nobody did except, about a few hundred metres down from Tay St, a lone surfer bobbed out behind the break. A long boarder too, he seemed so relaxed catching a wave in to shore and possibly having the best day of his life.

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