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Sustainable Coastlines: A year in review

Barrier Team

One year ago today, we received note that we’d been officially recognised as a registered New Zealand charity. This was a massive milestone for us, and something we were really proud of. It’s been a great year since then: below is a brief story of what we’ve been up to, and where we’re going.

From humble beginnings in the Galápagos Islands, where we motivated 300 people to remove 7.5 tonnes of rubbish in one morning from a UN World Heritage Site, we’ve been working hard every day to create projects to sustain and protect our coastlines. On the beaches and shores of Aotea/Great Barrier Island, The Ha’apai Islands of Tonga, Te Tairawhiti/East Coast and recently again on ‘The Barrier’, we’ve pulled together thousands of volunteers to take part in fun, positive events. Along the way, we’ve proven to many that the problem of pollution in our marine environments is an ongoing challenge that needs all of our collaborative efforts to tackle. And we intend to keep creating projects to do so.

On our return to New Zealand after the Galápagos Islands, we started talking serious trash, with ideas for a clean-up on the stunning coasts of Aotea/Great Barrier Island.

Some told us it was pointless, saying, “there’s no rubbish out there”. Others said that it couldn’t be done. But with the Waitemata Harbour Cleanup Trust, Spirit of Adventure Trust and Keep New Zealand Beautiful Society behind us, it became clear that it would be not only worth doing, but an adventure and awesome experience for all.

Our confidence received another boost when we travelled out to the beautiful island and met the locals. The warm friendship, instant support and insight into island life that greeted us finalised our decision to run the event. We decided that if we could lock-in 50 local kids for the event then it would definitely be worth it. The next step was just to set about making it as effective as possible.

A planning trip on the Waitemata Harbour Cleanup Trust’s Phil Warren revealed an irrational amount of rubbish on the beaches facing Auckland City. With prevailing wind from the South West, trash flows out from the waterways and stormwater drains and off boats, affecting the ecosystems of all the islands of the Hauraki Gulf. We realised that there was a massive task ahead.

During the event over 700 people removed 2.8 tonnes of rubbish from the pristine island. Among the volunteers were 250 children from low decile schools, and 250 adult volunteers. Rubbish was removed by foot and from the water with 55 kayaks and 10 boats. And we audited and documented all of the rubbish we found.

Post clean-up celebration, questions were flying about what and where our next adventure would be. On the way home from the Galápagos Islands, one of our crew had visited Tonga’s Ha’apai Islands by sailboat and witnessed the beauty of the atolls contrasting starkly with the savage rubbish problems these islands endure. The area is too low-lying for a sustainable landfill to be built and we proposed that – should rubbish be removed by container ship after a massive event – a strong example could be made. This was our goal: to raise awareness among the Tongan society, and kick-start a path to a long-term solution to the waste issue.

The sail up to Tonga in the good ship Nola was severely heeded by a run of savage weather up the West Coast of New Zealand, but eventually we arrived safely. Emily Penn, previously of Earthrace, lived in the Ha’apais for no less than 5 months, educating local children in schools and planning the event. Out of a total population of 4500 people on the islands of Foa and Lifuka where the event was held, over 3000 people participated, and we removed between 35-50 tonnes of rubbish from the islands’ coastlines.

This made a big noise in Tonga: we helped show that the people can work together and make a big difference. A waste management system was promptly put onto the agenda in government and following the event the Tongan Prime Minister was quoted saying that “a system would be put in place for the Ha’apai.”

One week after the event we drove past Faleloa Village on Foa Island, in an old dilapidated van, heading off to pack rubbish all day. Our tired and dirty crew spotted an immensely satisfying sight: A group of about 20 young school kids immaculately dressed before class, picking up rubbish from the shoreline and street entirely on their own accord, laughing and smiling as they did it. This is the kind of experience that keeps us going. We returned to New Zealand with a crew of faithful helpers and with memories of solid teamwork, Tongan smiles, pristine beaches and disposable nappies.

Shortly after this event we received reports that there were rubbish problems in the Gisborne/East Coast area. We spoke to the guys from Rhythm n Vines (who had helped on Aotea) about collaborating to harness local support to plan another event. With a generous grant from the JN Williams Memorial Trust we were able to coordinate hundreds of families, in every community over 300 kilometres of unique coastlines, with participants ranging in age from one to 77 years old. On the 2nd of January we combined forces to remove 12 tonnes of rubbish from these coasts.

Most recently, we repeated the ‘Barrier’ event from last year – using our learnings and our detailed audit results from the previous event to make this one even bigger and even better. Backed by a sensational amount of local support, we got over 1000 people together to remove over 3.1 tonnes of rubbish from the same coastlines that were combed by volunteers less than a year ago.

Our results show the shocking amount of trash escaping from metropolitan Auckland on a regular basis. However, while the problem is huge, the pathway towards a solution has been carved. The events we’ve held over the last year have proven to us that people want to go out and do something good for their coastlines; they just need the right excuse to do so. And we’re going to keep giving people that excuse.

As for the future you can be assured that we’ll be working tirelessly to protect and sustain our coastlines: they need our help. Please contact us if you’d like to support us in any way: donations, partnerships, volunteering, film-making, photography, etc. We’re always keen to hear from you: if you have ideas for events and want assistance to develop these, we’re happy to help.

Recent developments

We’ve recently partnered with Bluebridge Shipping with plans to get us across Cook Strait and allow us to work as far and wide as possible around Aotearoa. We’ll continue or work planning events and helping others plan theirs, focusing on positive environmental action and community engagement. Soon we’ll be announcing our upcoming fundraising ball, some regular gigs and our plans for further coastal clean-up events. 

That’s it from us. Thank you for your support over what has been an epic year of giving a little loving back to our beautiful coastlines.