The release of 60 penguins at Mt Maunganui beach today is a significant milestone in the Bay of Plenty's recovery from the Rena oil spill and environmental disaster, Environment Minister Nick Smith said today.
"It is a heart-warming experience after the devastating scene of oiled and dead birds to see these healthy penguins returning to their natural habitat," Dr Smith said.
"The wildlife response to this disaster has been first class. The specialist teams were on the ground within 24 hours of the Rena hitting the Astrolabe Reef, had facilities available within days and were able to recover as many oiled birds as possible. Their efforts have saved hundreds of birds from an ugly death and ensured we have the base breeding stock for the populations of penguins, shags, petrels and dotterels to recover.
"I want to acknowledge the efforts of Maritime New Zealand, Department of Conservation, iwi, New Zealand Defence Force, and the thousands of volunteers who recovered oiled birds and cleaned up the beaches and coast to enable these birds to return to their natural habitat.
"The Government will be meeting next week with local councils and iwi to finalise the long-term environmental recovery plan. We want the Bay of Plenty environment restored to its pre-Rena state as quickly as possible," Dr Smith said.