Kaiapoi oil spill

Page last updated 17 February 9:30am
Scaup being released into wild

The four scaup are released into their natural habitat

Four New Zealand scaup that were rehabilitated after oil spilt into the Cam / Ruataniwha River in Kaiapoi, have now been released into their natural habitat. 

Sadly, they were the only birds to survive out of 23 scaup that were captured and taken to the South Island Wildlife Hospital. 

Scaup are a diving duck species and are endemic to New Zealand. They are dark, with a rounded profile (similar to a bath-toy duck) and are common on north Canterbury waterways. 

Their release signifies we’re nearing the end of the response to the spill – which occurred in the early hours of Sunday 30 January, after a large fire was extinguished at Suttons Tools Ltd.

Oil spill response

A tier two oil spill response was declared in accordance with Maritime New Zealand protocols, as oil was likely to reach the coastal marine area without immediate action to contain and recover it. 

Video on the Kaiapoi oil spill response and recovery

Watch our video on the Kaiapoi oil spill response and recovery

The oil affected the following waterways: 

  • the Cam / Ruataniwha River 
  • the Kaiapoi and Waimakariri rivers downstream from the Williams Street bridge in Kaiapoi 
  • the Kaiapoi and Waimakariri confluence and the McIntoshs Rocks area downstream from the confluence, and out to the Waimakariri hāpua / river mouth.

Our staff immediately set up an incident control point and two forward operating bases at key areas - with booms, sorbents and sucker trucks used to capture and remove the oil from the surface of the water. 

The containment and recovery phase of the response, and all sites, were demobilised on Wednesday 2 February - but a boom remained in place on the Cam / Ruataniwha River until Tuesday 8 February to absorb some residual sheen.    

In total, just under 3,000 litres of oil was recovered from the water. 

Remediation work was required at the Kaiapoi River college rowing boat ramp and the public boat ramp by the swing bridge, as these sites were impacted by residual oil. The work involved scraping and replacing oiled stones and debris – and was completed last week. It significantly reduced the remobilisation of oil in that area. 

Wildlife 

New Zealand scaup

New Zealand scaup

The rehabilitation of captured birds was a key aspect of the response, and involved coordination between Environment Canterbury staff, and other wildlife experts. 

Our wildlife co-ordinator, Tori Muir, says when birds get oil on their feathers, it leaves them unable to regulate their temperature.  If they ingest it – they can get very sick, especially the younger birds. 

“While it’s sad that 19 died, it was great that we could work together to save four. I’d also like to thank the community for reporting sightings, which enabled us to get to as many 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.” 

North Canterbury Councillor Grant Edge is also commending the hospital’s efforts, saying it’s wonderful to see the ducks released back into their natural habitat. 

“Today’s an important day for the community. It’s the result of a lot of hard work and goodwill by Environment Canterbury staff, wildlife experts, and many other agencies involved in the overall response.” 

Further oil sightings 

Emma Parr talking to support crew

Those involved in the oil response came together to watch the scaup being released

Although the containment and recovery phase of the oil response is complete, assessment and monitoring visits will be ongoing for several weeks. 

Regional on-scene commander Emma Parr says people may still see small amounts of oil sheen on the water as it remobilises from vegetation and mud margins of the Cam / Ruataniwha and Kaiapoi rivers. 

Parr is also thanking the other agencies and organisations that were involved in the response, particularly those that were on site after hours and worked long hours during the containment and recovery phase, including our Kainga rivers team and ChemWaste. 

“Our staff were well supported by other Environment Canterbury sections, Maritime New Zealand, Waimakariri District Council and local rūnanga. It was a well-integrated and collaborative effort, and I’m grateful to all those who assisted.” 

Previous updates

Update 4 - 8 February 2022
Oil sheen will likely be visible on affected rivers

Oil sheen will likely be visible on affected rivers

Our incident response staff continue to assess and monitor the Cam / Ruataniwha, Kaiapoi and Waimakariri rivers. Minimal oil remains in these waterways and all equipment has been removed from the two response sites on the Cam / Ruataniwha and Kaiapoi rivers.

Regional on-scene commander Emma Parr says a total of nearly 3,000 litres of oil has been removed from the water using sorbent booms and sucker trucks.

“Sadly, only four New Zealand scaup have survived out of the 20 that were captured and taken to the South Island Wildlife Hospital. The remaining four are doing well.”

No other sightings of oiled birds have been confirmed over the last three days.

Site remediation

Two sites require remediation following the spill, as they are impacted by residual oil.

“Work to scrape and replace oiled stones and debris is needed at the Kaiapoi River rowing club boat ramp and the public boat ramp by the swing bridge. This work will be completed this week.” Parr says.

Oil sheen on rivers

People can expect to continue to see small amounts of oil sheen on the water around the Cam / Ruataniwha and Kaiapoi rivers.

“The oil clings to the vegetation and muddy banks and oil can remobilise with tidal changes, showing as a sheen on the surface of the water,” Parr says. 

If you see any oil in the water, please call our incident response team on 0800 765 588 or use the Snap Send Solve App to provide specific details of the location. 

Stay out of oiled water

Although the past few days of monitoring assessments have been positive, we continue to ask people to stay away from oiled areas, for the safety of you and your pets.

Residual oil is likely to remain in these waterways over the coming weeks:

  • the Cam / Ruataniwha River
  • the Kaiapoi River upstream from the Williams Street bridge in Kaiapoi.
Update 3 - 2 February 2022

We are demobilising the Kaiapoi oil spill response, but support remains to monitor any changes and respond to oil or wildlife sightings.

Regional on-scene commander Emma Parr says most of the equipment for recovery of oil at both the Cam / Ruataniwha and Kaiapoi rivers has been removed.

“A sorbent boom will remain in place on the Cam / Ruataniwha River to collect any oil that may appear during the coming rain this week,” Parr says.

“To date, we’ve recovered approximately 2,400 litres of oil from the water using sucker trucks and another approximate 400 litres of oil using sorbent materials.”

What you can expect

Members of the public can expect to see some very light sheen in a few places when any oil trapped within reeds is released.

Oil that isn’t recoverable is expected to degrade over time and we will continue to monitor the rivers and respond to any oil sightings over the coming weeks.

If you see any oil in the water, please call our incident response team on 0800 765 588 or use the Snap Send Solve App to provide specific details of the location. 

Affected wildlife

“The rehabilitation of captured wildlife is continuing. To date, more than 20 New Zealand scaup have been transported to the South Island Wildlife Hospital. They will be returned to the wild once they are healthy and the water is safe for them,” Parr says.

If you see oiled birds, please do not attempt to capture or clean them. Instead, contact our incident response team on 0800 765 588 or use the Snap Send Solve App to provide specific details of the location.

Stay out of oiled water

We continue to ask people to stay away from the following areas for the safety of you and your pets.

Residual oil is likely to remain in these waterways over the coming weeks:

  • the Cam / Ruataniwha River
  • the Kaiapoi and Waimakariri rivers downstream from the Williams Street bridge in Kaiapoi
  • the Kaiapoi and Waimakariri confluence and the MacIntoshs Rocks area
  • downstream from the confluence, and out to the Waimakariri hāpua / river mouth.
Update 2 - 1 February 2022
Oil is captured by booms, then sucker trucks are used to remove the waste

Oil is captured by booms, then sucker trucks are used to remove the waste

The response effort is going well, with a significant decrease of visible oil in the Cam / Ruataniwha and Kaiapoi rivers today, and minimal visible oil in the Waimakariri River.

One of the two response sites, on the Kaiapoi River, has been demobilised as minimal further oil has been observed at this location.

Rivers affected

We’re asking people to stay away from the following areas, as residual oil is likely to remain in these waterways:

  • the Cam / Ruataniwha River
  • the Kaiapoi and Waimakariri rivers downstream from the Williams Street bridge in Kaiapoi
  • the Kaiapoi and Waimakariri confluence and the McIntoshs rocks area
  • downstream from the confluence, and out to the Waimakariri hāpua / river mouth.
New Zealand Scaup

New Zealand scaup

What to do if you see oiled birds

“Eighteen New Zealand scaup have been captured and transported to a wildlife hospital, and four have sadly been found deceased,” regional on-scene commander Emma Parr says.

“While we know that you may mean well, if you’re seeing oiled birds affected by the Kaiapoi oil spill, please do not attempt to capture or clean them. Instead, please contact our incident response team on 0800 765 588 or use the Snap Send Solve App to provide specific details of the location,” Parr says.

Handling oiled birds puts both the birds, and yourself, at risk and this needs to be done by our trained wildlife experts. The birds need to be assessed and stabilised before being washed and then rehabilitated over several days to allow their natural oils - which control their body temperature - to be replenished. Only then can they be released safely.

For your own safety, coming into contact with the oil has health and safety risks and needs to be done using the correct PPE and by trained professionals.

“We are working closely with our wildlife team and South Island Wildlife Hospital to assess, capture and clean any oiled birds. It can be distressing to see birds in this way, but the best way you can help them is by letting us know where they are,” Parr says. 

Work underway

A final flush of the stormwater link between the site of the fire and the Cam / Ruataniwha River has been carried out today and has discharged some oil, which our booms collected, and sucker trucks removed. Brooklands lagoon and some of the less accessible areas are being surveyed in detail for oil today, both on water and by land.

“To date, we’ve recovered approximately 2,400 litres of oil from the water using sucker trucks and another approximately 250 litres of oil using sorbent materials. Oil at the site of the fire is contained,” Parr says. 

“We will be monitoring for any further oil over the coming weeks.”   

Signage erected at high-use sites

Signage installed at bridge

Signage being installed at high-use sites

’Polluted water’ signage has been installed at high-interest/high-use spots in the affected areas.

We are focusing this signage on areas where brown oil was visible and where the signs can have the best effect of keeping people out and away from the water.

“Coming into contact with contaminated water has health and safety risks. Please respect this signage and stay out of the water – this includes pets (dogs),” Parr says.

“We won’t have signs everywhere and due to the tidal nature of the area, oil will be moving around so we advise people to avoid all of the affected areas. We will advise the community when it is safe to re-enter.” 

Update 1 - 31 January 2022
Booms were deployed just below the Walker Street bridge on the Cam River

Booms were deployed just below the Walker Street bridge on the Cam River.

Affected rivers

Oil remains in the three rivers so people should avoid: 

  • the Cam / Ruataniwha River 
  • the Kaiapoi and Waimakariri rivers downstream from the Williams Street bridge in Kaiapoi 
  • the Kaiapoi and Waimakariri confluence 
  • downstream from the confluence, and out to the Waimakariri hāpua / rivermouth. 

Environment Canterbury regional on-scene commander Emma Parr says the spill is significant with approximately 2000 litres of quenching fluid (a hydrocarbon-based product used in the factory) recovered so far.  

“Five oiled birds (one of which was pāpango / scaup) were observed yesterday – one was able to be captured and has been transported to a vet for assessment,” Parr says.  

As part of the team of trained experts in oil spill response, our wildlife team remains on-site to assess and support any wildlife affected by the oil.  

“We’re doing all we can to contain and remove any oiled material with several containment and sorbent booms being placed in key areas.  

“We are also utilising the flood barriers at the Cam/Ruataniaha River to hold water back to enable containment and recovery as these are located just downstream of where the oil entered the waterway.  

“It is a difficult situation due to the multiple rivers affected and their tidal nature. Staff are being well supported by agencies such as Maritime New Zealand, the Waimakariri District Council and local Rūnanga,” Parr says.  

We maintain several oil spill response equipment sites around the region and have a dedicated team of trained responders to respond to oil spills and other environmental incidents.

Incidents involving contaminants in waterways should be notified to us immediately by calling us on 0800 765 588 or by using the Snap Send Solve app.

oil spilt into the Cam / Ruataniwha River after a significant fire was extinguished in Kaiapoi

Oil spilt into the Cam / Ruataniwha River after a fire was extinguished in Kaiapoi.

Oil spill response

Our incident response was notified by Fire and Emergency New Zealand of a likely oil spill after a fire was extinguished at Suttons Tools Limited at 3am Sunday morning.

Incident response staff, alongside our oil spill response commander, attended the site with equipment to support the initial response. The fire had largely been extinguished by 7am.

  • An inspection was made of the stormwater system and a sump exiting the facility. The sump was flowing with oily water which staff were informed was quenching fluid. 
  • Cam/Ruataniwha River was inspected, and a significant amount of contaminant was found in the river. 
  • Two booms were deployed just below the Walker Street bridge on the Cam/Ruataniwha River  one to capture the oil and one to soak it up. Sorbents and sucker trucks were also used. 
  • Further assessments of the catchment downstream of the main Williams Street bridge found evidence of oil in the water and two oiled birds were observed.
  • A tier two oil spill response was declared in accordance with Maritime New Zealand protocols as oil was likely to reach the coastal marine area without immediate action to contain and recover it.
  • Flood control structure was lowered on the Cam / Ruataniwha River to capture any remaining product upstream.  
  • Sorbents, sucker trucks and specialist Maritime New Zealand recovery equipment are the methods being used to contain and remove oil material.
  • Oiled birds that have been observed and can be captured are being taken to a vet to be assessed.

The response is expected to be ongoing for several days and the public are being asked to not use the waterways until the weekend as residual oil is expected to be observable until then.