Geography in the News

New Zealand oil spill: grounded ship threatens environmental disaster

A 47,000 tonne container vessel “Rena” hit Astrolabe Reef off New Zealand’s North Island about 22 kilometres off the coast of Tauranga leaking oil into the sea.  The  oil leak from the Liberian-flagged freighter has spread over an area of four kilometers and if the ship breaks up, it could release 1,700 tonnes of heavy fuel oil into the Bay of Plenty, home to whales, dolphins, seals, penguins and a variety of other birds.

The Astrolabe Reef is covered with colourful sponges and anemones, according to the Department of Conservation, with seals and gamefish such as marlin common in surrounding waters. Maritime authorities have said they are treating birds including little blue penguins brought in covered with oil. Animal welfare workers said the disaster had struck in the middle of breeding season for native birds on the bay.

New Zealand navy and salvage ships are working to pump off the ship’s fuel oil and move it to safety before attempting to free the ship. Dispersants sprayed from the air on to the slick have not worked and bad weather is expected to hamper the containment effort.

An oil slick is seen coming from the grounded vessel Rena, on October 9, 2011 in Tauranga, New Zealand. The Rena, a Liberan container vessel, struck a reef on Wednesday causing an oil leak that has spread over five kilometers.

The 47,000 tonne Rena is stranded on Astrolabe Reef, off one of New Zealand's most spectacular coastlines. Oil leaking from the ship has created a 5km (3 mile) slick.
A penguin found on the beach coated in oil gets washed at the Oiled Wildlife Response unit set up in a makeshift camp. The belly of the penguin is normally coloured white.

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