Friday 14 October 2011

Virus v cancer

Niven Rae is a local historian and long-time resident of Maketu, who told me about sleeping in a tent in the garden as a boy and waking to find a great dam of logs built up against the fence, deposited by a tsunami after the 1960 earthquake in Chile, that travelled all the way across the Pacific only to stop just metres from where he lay asleep.

He's been on the TV news not only describing what it's like to see his home environment wrecked by what the sea is washing up now, the filthy, stinking black heavy fuel oil escaping from the Rena, but also shouting and swearing at local officials who have been trying to stop the people of the Bay from getting stuck into cleaning up the sand. In the mural behind him you can see the monument marking where the canoe Te Arawa, one of the seven waka of the 1340 Great Migration came ashore, at the start of the swirl of sandy beach; and the island, currently a spit, that protects the estuary; and a diver in the water enjoying the marine environment; and the Bay continuing all the way around to Mt Maunganui and beyond. And all of this is now coated in sticky black, every single wave bringing more ashore, the blue sea brown and murky, hundreds of shorebirds mired and dead, unrecognisable.

Containers are now falling off the ship, which has cracked all the way through and is only just hanging together; 80-odd of them so far floating in the sea and being washed ashore all over the place, battered and broken, their contents spilling out and adding to the mess: a bizarre mixture of timber, milk powder, frozen beefburgers and animal hides. The authorities have been huffing and puffing about how they couldn't have started the clean-up any earlier, and how only trained people should be scraping the sand, and that everything possible is being done by experts - but no-one's convinced. Meantime the Greek company that chartered the Rena is passing the buck to the Swiss-based company that owns the ship, registered in Liberia, and they're no doubt going to blame the Filipino crew. And all the while, down here in New Zealand's now ironically named Bay of Plenty, our ecology and our environment are in ruins.

Back in '06 I stood with Niven on a hilltop pa site looking down on the village, the river and the beach towards the creeping holiday-home sprawl of Papamoa beyond. "It's a virus," he said. He's got something far worse to worry about now, poor man.


the queen said...

Pah - finger-pointing, foot-dragging. it sounds so much like the BP leak in the gulf.

TravelSkite said...

Yeah, you'd think it being an election year, the chance would have been seized for some inspiring leadership, instead of just sniping at the opposition's photo-op as "Messing around with a bucket and spade".


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