Containment and clean up of what has been termed New Zealand’s ‘worst ever environmental disaster’ are on their way in the Bay of Plenty after a Liberian cargo ship ran aground on a coral reef and began leaking fuel oil late last week.

So far 350 tons of oil have leaked into the bay, damaging wildlife and washing up on area beaches.

A salvage crew has been working aboard the ship, the Rena, making slow progress. Meanwhile, a group of some 2,000 volunteers has been cleaning toxic oil from affected beaches.

photo by jeremycg (Flickr CC)

Read the latest in the New Zealand Herald.

For video of the salvage operation see this report in the Guardian.

For a stunning variety of photographs of the spill, ship, beach clean up and affected wildlife, see this Guardian slide show.

Hopefully this disaster in New Zealand will bring more attention to the plight of coral reefs around the world, which are vital to local – as well as global – ecologies and economies. A recent article in the New York Times by a biologist from Georgia Tech University explains:

When my sons were born, an average Caribbean reef was covered by 50 to 60 percent live coral; today it is 5 to 10 percent. This is the equivalent of losing pine forests from Georgia or aspens from the Rocky Mountains in less than 30 years. During this same period, the Great Barrier Reef in Australia lost about 50 percent of its coral cover. Worldwide, coral reefs are being converted to seaweed-covered meadows that do not support the biodiverse assemblage of species that allow a reef to function.