October 23, 2011
It is just about three weeks since the coastal freighter Rena grounded on the Astrolabe Reef out of Tauranga, home to a popular dive and fishing spot, close to Motiti Island, the fabulous Mount Maunganui beach and the rest of the coastline that embraces the Bay of Plenty. Just about three weeks since the globules of heavy oil turned up on the beaches, containers toppled from the ship, and their rotting contents spilled ashore.
No specific cause for the grounding has been made public and the blame-game is yet to be played out. But here is an ironic footnote: an astrolabe was a navigational aid used by early oceanic explorers to calculate latitude. It was never an instrument noted for its accuracy.
Of course there is outrage. New Zealand’s 100% Pure reputation takes another hit. And this happens when we are show-casing the country to an influx of tourists here for the Rugby World Cup. More than that is the threat to traditional summer holidays and the freedom to swim, surf and fish this coastline. Already local businesses are suffering.
People Power is a headline writ large in the newspaper some ten days ago. The people are volunteers, and their power is in their good intentions and commitment and energy to ‘Do Something’. Volunteers have dived in to the clean-up along the beaches, initially defying official warnings about health hazards. And it’s not just the beach – there are birds and sea animals to be rescued. Volunteers are there, boots ‘n’ all, and latterly with the right protective gear. There are more than 5000 of them.
Twice in one year to demonstrate volunteer power is more than usual. Two
emergencies to call on volunteer power are more than enough in one small country.
Twice in one year there are challenges to official prescriptions and policies, and frustration with delays in getting help where it is needed. So volunteers take the lead with enormous effect. Think Student Army in Christchurch in February. Think volunteers and Kiwi ingenuity that gets them on the beaches and getting the oil off the beaches. Think about a community that wants to pull together any which way they can, for the common good. Watch the video to see what they can achieve.
There is a dedicated page on Facebook. Volunteer Centres in Western Bay of Plenty and Waikato are offering information for volunteers. Bay of Plenty Regional Council is the place to go for registration and latest info. Maritime NZ is another source of good information. Surf Clubs are taking a lead coordination role, doing the orientation and training, managing the volunteer task-force in conjunction with other authorities. And do not forget the Wild-life Rescue Centre, doing their damnedest to recover oil-smothered birds. Volunteers are there too.
Volunteers are not only on the beaches. The support teams have swung into action, uninvited, spontaneously. One person organises a bus to transport volunteers from up north. Local polytech students prepare and provide a soup kitchen for the beach workers. Ordinary people do extraordinary things to support the efforts of this massive clean-up.
There is still a long way to go. Volunteer groups in Tauranga and elsewhere are keen to do more, and to speed up progress. Politicians do the smooth-talking, and experts offer the dinkum oil as they see it.
Volunteers will continue with their efforts for as long as it takes, led by their coordinators. I hope these leaders, who are demonstrating the best what and how of managing volunteers, will get the recognition they deserve.