Profile: Maureen Burgess

1) What’s your involvement with Forest & Bird?

I have been a member for around forty years, and I used to be chairperson of the Lower Hutt branch. While I am less involved now then I used to be, I try to support Forest & Bird and help out wherever I can.

Maureen with a newly cleaned little blue penguin

Maureen with a newly cleaned little blue penguin

2) How were you involved in the clean-up following the oil spill?

I was phoned by DOC on the day of the spill, and I then raced to an induction meeting at Te Maunga. I was one of six people who worked with vets from Massey, handling oiled birds. We kept records, helped to clean the birds and I was put in charge of the kitchen (feeding birds, not people). It got to the point where the facilities that were set up initially couldn’t support the number of birds that were being brought in, or the number of people who were working there. We eventually had another marquee erected and I designed and set up separate “clean bird” and “dirty bird” kitchens, to avoid further contamination



3) What did you find most challenging and/or rewarding about your role in the clean-up?

I found it very frustrating that many people didn’t know the real impacts of the oil spill. Most of the public didn’t really know what was going on, which wasn’t their fault ads they were largely kept out. Even today I have spoken to people who clearly do not understand the devastating impact this has had on the environment.

4) What is your most vivid memory from the clean-up?

Seeing all the oiled birds spread out on a big tarpaulin for the media to see was really upsetting. There were shapes of birds encased in big blobs of oil, and you could barely recognise them as birds.

It wasn’t all bad however. I was asked to help wash a little blue penguin, which I really enjoyed. We trailed a product called Blue Dawn, a detergent from the US, on our penguin. Lots of other detergents had been used, but none really worked properly. But Blue Dawn did! You could see the oil washing out of the penguins’ feathers, and ours was the first properly clean bird at the treatment station.

5) How much work do you think is needed to return the environment back to its original state (pre-spill)?

I feel quite positive about the state of the environment following the spill. Oil is leaked into the sea from other sources, and it does break down eventually. Having spoken to some local fishers, it seems that fish populations haven’t suffered significantly either. In fact, theyve reported that there are more sharks in the area, because lots of fish are coming to eat the meat that is coming off the boat, so there is plenty for them to feed on.

I think the biggest pollution problem is the polystyrene beads and other non-organic material going into the sea from the boat. These materials won’t break down easily, and will have a lasting effect on the surrounding environment.

6) Do you have any advice for New Zealanders in regard to protecting our wildlife from any further environmental disasters?

We have to make sure our politicians are checking maritime laws. It seems like these matters aren’t considered important until a disaster like this happens. It doesn’t take much to keep records and update laws and policies accordingly. The Ministry of Fisheries should take responsibility to ensure that maritime rules protect our environment and that the repercussions for breaking these are significant enough to deter people from doing so.