An oil removal technique not seen before in New Zealand is being trialled around Mauao's rocky foreshore - courtesy of defence force volunteers.
Work began yesterday squirting sea water pumped under low pressure around and under rocks to flush out oil washed up in storm surges from Rena.
The technique was being tested by Maritime New Zealand on advice from experts brought in from Australia to help out with the clean up.
Carefully placed material that was a magnet to oil, absorbing 25 times its own weight, caught the oily residue before it reached where the waves were breaking.
It was a welcome switch in duties for some of the Royal New Zealand Air Force volunteers who are otherwise employed on the laborious task of sifting through the top 30cm of sand searching for oil.
A total of 52 Air Force personnel and 28 Army territorials are in Tauranga for a fortnight cleaning up the sandy beaches and rocky foreshores of Papamoa, Mauao and Motiti Island and Matakana Island. The Air Force was yesterday focusing its efforts on Papamoa East, Motiti and Mauao, including a team taking advantage of the hot sun to remove the worst of the bitumen-type oil coating rocks above the high tide line - rocks hit by the two storm surges since Rena grounded.
What they were unable to get off would eventually disappear from being pounded by the sea.
A third group was sifting through Mauao's shell beaches to find deposits of oil, with the painstaking work broken by the welcome distractions of a couple of fur seals and a pod of killer whales going past.
Warrant Officer Steve McCutcheon from the RNZAF said that in the first four days since the latest group of defence force volunteers began removing oil last Friday, they had picked up two and half tonnes of oil-impregnated sand. He said it was an excellent result that reflected the discipline and work ethic of the young men and women.
Mr McCutcheon said scarcely any oil had been left behind by the receding tide on the sandy beaches during the last two days - just a few oil marbles that could be scooped up by butterfly nets.
Helping to supervise the flushing trial yesterday was Peter Braddock from the Australian Maritime Safety Authority.