Northland Regional Council is reviewing is ability to deal with oil spills, in the wake of the Rena grounding off the coast of Tauranga.
A public meeting was held in Whangarei on Tuesday night to discuss how well-prepared the region is to deal with oil pollution.
Northland has had some close calls in the past 20 years, with ship-fires and near-groundings and a serious spill at the Poor Knights Islands in 1999.
Council staff said Northland, with its oil refinery, is possibly the region best prepared to cope.
But they conceded it would be extremely difficult to undo the damage to a major spill would cause to a remote and rocky coastline.
Environmentalist Wade Doak said New Zealand should be focusing on preventing oil spills, and not just preparing for them.
Given what is at stake, Mr Doak says it would seem only sensible to track the movements of ships, in the same way planes are tracked.
He said the new type of radar now installed on many ships would allow marine authorities to track their movements and avert accidents like the Rena's grounding off Tauranga.