Every time penguin researcher Julia Graham comes across an empty burrow, she thinks of one thing only: the Rena.
"I think, 'Rena did that' and it makes me angry," she said.
Today Mrs Graham will feel that frustration even more - it has been one year since the MV Rena crashed into the Astrolabe Reef, breaking in two and breaking hearts with it.
And while we can no longer see or smell the oil slick, or much of the ship for that matter, the long-term effects of the environmental disaster are still to unfold.
"It has to have had some effect, but to what extent is something we simply don't know at this stage," Mrs Graham says.
The self-confessed "Penguin Lady" spends her days, and nights, with a dedicated team of volunteers and other researchers in the area surround the Mount, and Leisure and Rabbit Islands, catching birds and weighing them.
They are trying to build a clear picture of the number of penguins left post-Rena, and if they are putting on weight and, most importantly, breeding.
"This is important because this is the first breeding season since Rena," she says. "We lost a lot of eggs and a lot of babies and there are still abandoned burrows out there.
"We estimate this breeding season there will be about 25 per cent less chicks than there was last year. But it won't be for a few years until we know the full extent of the damage."
Others are also worried about the long-term environmental damage wreaked by the Rena.
Tourism operator Graeme Butler, owner/operator of Butler's Swim With Dolphins, says this time of year should be busy with tours.
"But along came the Rena and went crunch," he says.
"It has been a horrible year. No business. Our business went right down after the whole fiasco.
"That time of year should have been our busiest time. We should have been out showing people orcas and dolphins and whales and albatross.
"Instead all we had to show was a dirty oil slick. Oil was everywhere."
Mr Butler becomes white with rage when he thinks about the Rena being left on the reef and turned into a dive site.
"I think the people that want that are people who think it will increase fish stock numbers and people who think it will make a nice spot to go diving," he said.
"I also think they are very, very selfish and have no idea, no concept of marine ecology and conservation."
There was no way of knowing if the wreck would leak toxic chemicals into the surrounding waters, he said.
"I don't want to see toxic rubbish in the ocean.
"A big mass of toxic waste has no place in the ocean at all.
"There can be no benefit at all in having three or four hundred tonnes of crap in the ocean. None at all."
Clean-up crews are still picking up debris from Coromandel beaches. They have been at Sailor's Grave all week after rough weather stirred things up.
Coromandel and Matakana Island hot spots will continue to receive special attention. Operations manager Mike Richards says bad weather has historically stirred up debris so it is prudent to wait for the weather to settle and then collect debris.
The number of retrieved containers stands at 1003.
Steel removal from the Rena wreck continues, with daily helicopter operations using McDermott Aviation Bell 214 heavy lift helicopter. The total steel weight landed ashore is now more than 650 tonnes.
The Salvage Master for Resolve Salvage and Fire, Francis Leckey, said that positive helicopter progress now allowed Resolve to focus on getting divers into the water to begin the next phase of this demanding and, at times, dangerous project - underwater steel cutting.
As the clean-up continues attention now turns to the upcoming summer season and the hope that visitor numbers will return to their pre-Rena levels.
Tourism Bay of Plenty general manager Rhys Arrowsmith remains optimistic.
"We forecast strong visitor numbers to our beaches this summer and early bookings are on par," he says.
But the Rena disaster had taken its toll.
"From an accommodation perspective holiday parks and backpackers were worst affected," he says.
"(But) that is keeping in mind weather in the entire North Island was a shocker last summer, which compounded the overall downturn."
Enjoying a picnic lunch at the Mount yesterday were young German students who have bought a van and are driving the length of the country.
They had stopped in the Bay of Plenty because of one reason only.
"We are here because it is so beautiful," said Frederic Birke.
"There are beautiful beaches, it's so nice, and it's so much nicer than Auckland."
The young tourists had heard lots of things about the area, but none of them had heard of the Rena or the following environmental disaster.
"Rena? No, we have not heard of that," Mr Birke said.
It is an indication, however slight, that things may be turning the corner for a region that has been in the media for all the wrong reasons of late. And that is of comfort to people like Graeme Butler, who relies on the surrounding waters and wildlife for his living.
"I would say to people that they need to give us a good chance of recovery. We lost the last summer season, don't let us lose this one."
Mrs Graham will continue her work this summer with her beloved penguins. Any dead penguins found are still recorded and sent away for an autopsy, but there are moments that she says still bring tears of joy.
"Our first breeding pair of penguins that we found washed up one year ago with oil on them laid eggs in their burrow in August," she says.
"Their first chicks hatched about four weeks ago. It gives you hope."
To report a dead penguin phone Dave Richards on 021 719 622.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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