12 December 2011

High praise for wildlife response team as penguins released

The first batch of cleaned penguins is released back
into the wild at Mt Maunganui.
Photo credit: Maritime New Zealand.
NEW ZEALAND - Over 100 clean little blue penguins rescued from the Rena oil spill have been returned to their normal nesting grounds in a series of staged releases by the National Oiled Wildlife Response Team (NOWRT).

The first 49 penguins were released on 22 November, in what was described by Maritime New Zealand as a "major milestone" in the ongoing oil spill response to the Rena grounding.

At the time of their release, Environment Minister Nick Smith said, "It is a heart-warming experience after the devastating scene of oiled and dead birds to see these healthy penguins returning to their natural habitat."

"The wildlife response to this disaster has been first class ... Their efforts have saved hundreds of birds from an ugly death and ensured we have the base breeding stock for the populations of penguins, shags, petrels and dotterels to recover.

"I want to acknowledge the efforts of Maritime New Zealand, Department of Conservation, iwi, New Zealand Defence Force, and the thousands of volunteers who recovered oiled birds and cleaned up the beaches and coast to enable these birds to return to their natural habitat."

Director of Maritime New Zealand, Catherine Taylor, praised the NOWRT for their contribution to the overall oil spill response.

Ms Taylor said the NOWRT, which is trained, managed and coordinated by specialists at Massey University and includes other wildlife specialists and coordinators from the regions, had mobilised within hours of Rena grounding on 5 October.

The team had very quickly established a facility for treating and housing the animals and Ms Taylor said that they had been "working tirelessly" since then to collect and care for the animals affected by this spill.

Ms Taylor also said a large number of other agencies and individuals, such as Department of Conservation personnel, had been integral to the overall effectiveness of the response and the team has also been supported by wildlife specialists from around New Zealand and Australia, as well as US-based specialists from the conservation group International Bird Rescue and Oiled Wildlife Care Network.

NOWRT coordinator Kerri Morgan echoed Ms Taylor’s gratitude for the support the team had received.

“This has truly been a team effort. We have had support from all over the country, and from our international colleagues. We have had an outstanding level of support from the local community. We’ve had so many people give up their time to help us care for the animals.

“Also, beyond the wildlife team, it’s important to recognise that every person who has contributed to the oil spill response has also played a part in the release today.

“The oil spill response teams have been working for weeks now to get the beaches to a standard safe to return the animals into – we also have to thank the salvors, the volunteers and the New Zealand Defence Force.”

Miss Morgan said the released birds had been microchipped and would be monitored to see whether the spill affects their long-term health.

For future research, the NOWRT had searched the local area and checked and microchipped the unoiled penguins they found so they can also be monitored. The birds provide an opportunity to study two populations of penguins over the next few years – those that have been rehabilitated and released, and those unaffected by oil.

“We will be able to follow them to see what happens to breeding patterns and other factors.”

As of 9 December, there were 190 penguins still being housed at the Wildlife Centre, as well as 12 dotterels. The NOWRT will continue to release the birds in stages over the coming weeks as their habitats are cleaned up and after they pass pre-release assessments.

Rena update #129, 9 December 2011, Maritime New Zealand
Rena update #116, 28 November 2011, Maritime New Zealand
Rena update #107, 22 November 2011, Maritime New Zealand
Penguin release milestone in Rena recovery, 22 November 2011, Nick Smith, Minister for the Environment

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