Little blue penguins return to ocean home
22 Nov 2011
Tauranga's little blue penguins are heading back to their off-shore island homes.
Happy locals gathered at Mt Maunganui Beach - an iconic New Zealand summer destination - to farewell 60 little blue penguins today (22.11.2011) as they set off down the beach on their way home to their natural habitat on Rabbit Island.
The penguins are the first of about 400 oiled birds, rescued after the MV Rena went aground off the coast of the Bay of Plenty coast, to be released back into the wild.
Since they were retrieved from beaches along the Bay of Plenty coastline, the penguins have been through a three-stage cleaning process in a wildlife recovery centre.
Before release, each bird has to pass a health check and a six-hour swim test to show that it has regained its natural waterproofing. After a period of exercising in fresh water, they also have to be reintroduced to salt water.
Penguins and other local seabird populations such as dotterel are
territorial and will return to their original habitat so the release
will be progressive as areas are checked and approved to receive them.
After a massive cleanup, all but two small sections of the Bay of Plenty coastline - a year-round New Zealand holiday destination renowned for its long stretches of white sand beaches - is open and ready for the summer season.
The community had rallied to help clean the beaches, and almost all Bay of Plenty activities and attractions were now operating as normal, Tourism Bay of Plenty general manager Glenn Ormsby said.
Tauranga is a major destination port for New Zealand’s cruise ship market, and this year’s season which is already underway will see 82 ships in port
International yachts from The Clipper round-world race have also started arriving in Tauranga.
"The fact that these yachts are still coming here is more visual proof that the clean-up is working, the water is clean and Tauranga and the Bay of Plenty are ready for summer," Ormsby said.
More than 7800 volunteers were involved in the clean up operation which had resored the beaches to fine condition for summer, Ormsby said.
"We've been blown away by the community response volunteering to help clean up and restore our coastline to its magnificent best."
Professor David Schiel, a leading marine ecologist from Canterbury University, said the response to the oil spill had been very rapid by international standards.
"The response has been outstanding and involved the public so they’ve shared in dealing with this crisis," Schiel said.
The MV Rena has been drained of oil removing any threat of further spillage. Salvage work is now concentrated on removing the containers.
Background: Bay of Plenty
New Zealand’s Bay of Plenty region is renowned for its amazing coastline - a favourite holiday destination for fishing, swimming, surfing, diving, and kayaking.
Tauranga - the main tourism hub - is a busy seaside city with a huge range of holiday accommodation, shops, cafés, historic and cultural attractions, adventure tourism and vineyards.
The Bay of Plenty welcomes more than 3.5 million domestic and international visitors each year, including about 200,000 during the Christmas - New Year period. About half these visitors stay in the Mt Maunganui / Papamoa beach areas.
The tourism industry is worth NZ$450 million each year to the Western Bay of Plenty economy and employs around 10% of the population.
Bay of Plenty region
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