By SHELLEY TOPP
Four New Zealand scaup, which were left coated in oil after the Sutton Tools factory fire last month, have been returned to their natural habitat in the Kaiapoi River.
They are the survivors of 23 that were rescued.
The little ducks, which are unique to New Zealand and also known as black teal, were released into the Cam River/Kaiapoi River confluence in Kaiapoi on last Wednesday morning by veterinarian Pauline Howard, from Christchurch’s South Island Wildlife Hospital, and the Environment Canterbury wildlife co-ordinator, Tori Muir.
Twenty three oil-coated scaup were taken to the wildlife hospital after 3000 litres of oil from the factory spilt into nearby waterways during the early-morning fire on January 30. Only four of the birds survived.
The rehabilitation of the birds was a key aspect of Environment Canterbury’s clean-up response to the oil spill and involved co-ordination between ECan staff, and other wildlife experts.
When birds get oil on their feathers they are unable to regulate their temperature. Also if they ingest oil they can become very sick, especially younger birds.
“While it is sad that 19 died, it was great that we could work together to save four,” Tori said.
She thanked the community for reporting sightings, which enabled ECan staff to capture as many oil-coated birds as possible.
“We are also extremely grateful to Pauline and the team at the South Island Wildlife Hospital who did a great job of stabilising, washing and rehabilitating the scaup despite being pushed for space in their current facility (at the Willowbank Wildlife Reserve).
The release of the birds was attended by a small group of people including ECan staff and councillor Grant Edge, Department of Conservation staff, plus Sutton Tools production and engineering manager Glenn Morgan and Carl, Huyser, the Christchurch branch manager of ChemWaste which helped ECan clean up the oil spill.
The company also helped towards the costs of rehabilitating the birds by providing 1,000 litre drums to catch the oily water that washed off the birds and arranging the safe disposal of hospital waste which included gloves, rags and wipes used to soak up the oil.
Mr Huyser said the company was paid for the work they did cleaning up the spill but they wanted to help with the costs of rehabilitating the birds because “it felt like the right thing to do.”
It was an emotional time for him watching the four surviving birds returned to their Kaiapoi River home. “I had a tear in my eye after watching the birds fly off,” he said.
The river environment had made the oil spill clean-up a complex job requiring two trucks and four staff working 49 and a half hours to complete.
“You want to only collect the oil, taking as little water with it as you can,” he said.
The oil spill affected the Cam/Ruataniwha River, the Kaiapoi and Waimakariri rivers downstream from the Williams Street bridge in Kaiapoi, the Kaiapoi River and Waimakariri River confluence and the McIntoshs Rocks area, downstream from the confluence, and out to the Waimakariri River mouth.
Remediation work was also required at the Kaiapoi River’s college rowing boat ramp and the public boat ramp by the swing bridge, as these sites were impacted by residual oil.
That work, which has now been completed, involved scraping and replacing oiled stones and debris.