Written by John Williams
Photography by Jamie Cobel
As the sun came out on Sunday morning, so did all the helpers, and after a briefing by Ben from the Watercare Harbour Clean-Up Trust, the annual Cox’s Bay clean up was underway.
From my vantage point on the deck of the beautifully renovated Hawke Sea Scouts boathouse, I watched as everyone fanned out along the shoreline and began picking up the litter.
Some brave souls, despite warnings from Sea Scout leader Gretchen Wade decided to head out over the mud flats, sinking deeper into the Waitemata with every step. Once stuck, they beckoned their colleagues to come out and help extricate them (and their gumboots) from the sticky, grey mud. They, too, got stuck. Although this scene provided an amusing ten minutes entertainment, it also highlighted the potential dangers that exist just metres from the high-tide mark.
Back on dry(ish) land, the pile of debris delivered to the slipway below started building up. Ray White’s Simon Damerell had also joined me to survey the progress.
“Kids are natural conservationists,” says, Simon. “They’ll naturally do what’s right.”
In the week leading up to the event, Simon told me that he and his team, aided by Hayden Smith from Sea Cleaners, had visited local schools to talk to students about the effect that rubbish has on our oceans and how they could help clean things up.
“Wood and glass and metal aren’t the main culprits, here,” Simon says. “Plastic is the real menace. And plastic bags are the worst. Filter feeders think they’re jellyfish, so they suck them in... and when they break down into smaller bits, birds think they’re small fish.” Pointing out to the harbour, Simon adds, “Every Gannet out there, bar none, has plastic in its guts.” That, in itself, is a very sad fact.
Ray White Ponsonby is not a newcomer to conservation, having organised the planting of trees along nearby Meola Creek and around the back of Western Springs College and the zoo.
“Our next move is to set up an environmental trust,” says, Simon. “I want to draw up a charter that’s based around planting, cleaning up and conservation in the area.”
As we peer down at the growing pile of rubbish below us, Ben from Watercare Harbour Clean-Up laments about just how much plastic is around, and the effect it has on us all.
“The problem with plastic, is that it lasts forever,” he goes on. “It will only ever breakdown to a molecular level – it doesn’t biodegrade, so it’s inside all the crabs and the creatures that live and feed in the mud, and in all the fish that feed on them. Plastic is now in our food chain, and we are effectively fouling our own nests.”
“Plastic is used in so much packaging these days,” Ben says. “Every time we go to the supermarket we walk out with plastic bags. And we don’t need them.”
The message is simple – we need to stop using plastic. Or, at very least, take care of how we dispose or it or recycle it.
“What amazes me,” adds, Simon. “Is that India has outlawed certain plastic bags. If India can do it, why can’t we?” It’s a good point.
The two-hour clean up is almost at an end, and I head down to where people are gathering with their bags of rubbish. The atmosphere throughout the morning had been fantastic. Everyone had come with a great attitude and a willing pair of hands – young and old.
Local resident, John Cowern, says he heard about the clean up from his brother who lives at Waihi Beach. “He’d read about it in the Herald and emailed me to get along and help out. He even called me this morning, just to make sure I didn’t forget,” he laughs. Good news travels.
As Simon sounds the horn that officially ends proceedings, people gather for muddy selfies and start the prerequisite posting. Only one task remains – the eagerly awaited spot prize giveaway. One lucky volunteer is about to walk away with a brand new paddleboard.
And the winner is…
Sunny Coleman from Waterview. Her father, James, is stood beside me and is more excited than his daughter about her trophy. “That’s just fantastic,” he grins. “it’s been a fantastic morning – what a great idea this is. When you drive past, there doesn’t appear to be any rubbish around,” he says. “It’s only when you’re up close that you realise just how much is lying around. It’s staggering the amount you can collect in just a couple of hours,” he adds.
From the whole team at the Ray White Damerell Group, a huge thank you to Sea Cleaners, the Watercare Harbour Clean-Up Trust, Hawke Sea Scouts, and most of all, to all the members of our community who gave up their Sunday morning to help clean up over one tonne of plastic and other rubbish from Cox’s Bay. Roll on next year!
To see more photos from the day click here
Identifying the need to clean up the inshore areas in and around Auckland’s two harbours, Hayden Smith started the Sea Cleaners clean-up programme 14yrs ago.
“It started with an idea and a website,” says, Hayden. “It’s now a charitable trust and we’re planning to expand to Bay of Plenty, Taranaki and Wellington, rolling out new boats with new crews, helping to clean up local communities.”
Sea Cleaners’ boats are out on the harbour on a daily basis with the help of paid and voluntary crews. Each boat recovers approximately 300,000 litres of debris from the ocean annually – that’s enough rubbish to fill 10 shipping containers. To date, Sea Cleaners have pulled out almost 4 million litres of rubbish out of New Zealand waters.
“Ninety percent of what we collect – certainly around Auckland – has come from the land, down through the storm-water systems or directly off the land, via rivers or blown by the wind,” he says.
“Unfortunately, the ocean is downhill from everywhere – so that’s where the rubbish ends up.”
Our rubbish doesn’t just affect our coastal waters. Hayden says a turtle recently found across the Pacific in the Galapagos Islands, contained over 250 individual pieces of plastic – several of which were identified as having their origins in New Zealand.
What Can You Do?
Start by saying no to plastic. Try to reduce your personal consumption of plastic by using alternatives to plastic bags at the supermarket. Also, think about the packaging of the products you purchase. Drink bottles a classic example. From the ocean’s perspective glass and aluminium are OK.
“Just because it’s labelled recyclable doesn’t automatically make it ocean friendly,” says Haydn. “Anything that’s plastic has a negative impact on the ocean – plastic is not biodegradable.”
One habit Hayden is trying to encourage is for every New Zealander to pick up just one piece of rubbish a day and dispose of it responsibly. Think about it – that’s 4.5 million pieces of rubbish per day that won’t end up in the ocean.
Visit seacleaners.com for more information.