On Thursday the 16th of November, Sustainable Coastlines volunteers Pam Ross and Christopher Yarnall walked along the shores of Hobsonville in Auckland’s upper Waitemata Harbour, picking up rubbish. Over the course of four hours of tough mahi they removed 900 litres of litter; all manner of detritus that had been discarded somewhere upstream.
Pam – from Ontario, Canada — and Chris – from New York State, USA – had flown from the other side of the world to take part in our international volunteer programme, and this was just one of dozens of days they spent around Tamaki Makaurau Auckland, weeding, planting native trees and picking up litter. In isolation this is impressive. But this day represented something even more significant; this was Sustainable Coastlines’ 500th clean-up since establishment in 2008.
Sometimes it takes a major milestone like this to illustrate the scale of the challenges we face. We have removed over 1.3 million litres of litter during clean-up events like this; enough to fill more than 40 shipping containers. Time and time again, we head back to beaches we have previously cleaned to find them covered in litter.
Picking up rubbish from our coastlines, waterways, streets and public spaces is not the long-term solution. It is a necessary step to looking after the places we love, but it is unfortunately the ambulance at the bottom the cliff.
Perhaps more importantly, this milestone also helps us appreciate the scale of our solutions. 500 times, motivated volunteers have given up their time to give back. 123,644 hours of their time, to be exact. We know that investing time in your local community gives a sense of ownership and pride of place.
500 times, the easily-overlooked issue of litter has risen to the surface through media, social media, and conversations spread by our volunteers. We know that the hardest way to address a problem is when people do not even know that it exists.
500 times, people have engaged hands-on with their beloved beaches. We know that connection to nature is vital for long-term engagement in environmental issues. After all, if you don’t enjoy the outdoors, why would you bother to protect it?
Together we are making progress. Motivated and inspired volunteers are turning up in greater and greater numbers. Our dedicated and growing staff is delivering targeted education to prevent litter. We are training and supporting an expanding network of ambassadors who spread our work far and wide. The voice of the masses is being heard; supermarkets are phasing out single-use plastic bags and Auckland beaches are going smokefree, removing a large source of litter. Anecdotally, we are seeing less rubbish at some hotspots. And we are working on the research to prove it.
As Sustainable Coastlines heads for our next major milestone in February 2018 — 10 years since we started — we are gearing up to fortify the fence at the top of the proverbial cliff. Behind closed doors we have been working on a new, scaled-up approach to solve marine pollution, that we will announce in the new year.
For now, let us celebrate our love for our oceans. Let us celebrate the 500 times caring people like you have mucked in. And let us celebrate this momentous milestone with a renewed passion for winning the war on marine pollution. Every % you give helps us lead the charge.