Our story | Sustainable Coastlines


In 2008, Sam Judd, travelling with Kiwi buddies James Bailey and Zach Beard, volunteered for the Galápagos National Park. Shocked to find the uninhabited coasts spoiled with litter, they removed 1.6 tonnes in just eight days. Despite a near-fatal tiger shark attack, Sam got right back to work with James and Zach, motivating 300 locals to remove 7.5 tonnes of litter from the remote San Cristóbal Island. The trio pledged to continue their efforts back in the Land of the Long White Cloud. The idea for Sustainable Coastlines was born.


Sustainable Coastlines was launched in 2009 with our first signature event: a clean-up of Aotea / Great Barrier Island. Sam joined forces with James, Camden Howitt and a team of organisers to bring together 700 volunteers from schools, the local community, and the mainland for a massive clean-up over two days. The volunteers removed 2.8 tonnes of litter and the event garnered huge media attention. 

Our efforts continued that year in the Pacific when the team sailed to the Ha’apai Islands in Tonga. Their three-month-long litter education campaign culminated in a gargantuan clean-up effort, removing eight shipping containers’ worth of waste.


We returned to Aotea / Great Barrier Island in 2010, this time joined by more than 1,000 volunteers. We removed 3.1 tonnes of litter from the same coastlines we had cleaned up less than a year earlier. The litter was travelling, and it was increasing. Picking it up off the beach wasn’t enough: we realised we needed to stop it at its source. To do this, we created ‘Love Your Coast’, a grass-roots programme that couples education with beach clean-ups. We hit the ground running — with events in Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch and the West Coast we engaged 4,400 volunteers, cleaning up 68,000 litres of litter.


The year 2011 saw the inception of our Hawaii chapter. Presenting at the fifth International Marine Debris Conference in Honolulu, during their stay Camden and Sam slept in hammocks at the house of local Kahi Pacarro — who they had connected with at our very first clean-up on Aotea. After teaming up on a huge clean-up on Oahu’s North Shore — attended by musical legend Jack Johnson and family — Pacarro was inspired to start Sustainable Coastlines Hawaii, which continues to create huge impacts and jobs.

As well as expanding across the Pacific, we also expanded our efforts upstream. To have healthy water at our coasts we need to look after our rivers. We began to focus our wintertime efforts on restoring fresh water through riparian planting.


Marine litter is a global problem, and our approach proved popular across the Pacific. Throughout 2012 we delivered grass-roots solutions to Vanuatu, the Cook Islands and Papua New Guinea, spreading litter-reduction education and engaging local communities in clean-up work. More importantly, we set out longer-term solutions through training athlete ambassadors in collaboration with the International Olympic Committee. The educational programmes proved to be a hit and the results on the ground were outstanding. It was clear that people everywhere wanted to protect their coastlines; they just needed tools to make it easier.


While Love Your Coast grew from strength to strength, the awards started rolling in. On behalf of the Sustainable Coastlines team, Sam was named 2013 Young New Zealander of the Year. At a Ministry for the Environment ceremony in the Beehive, we picked up the Supreme Green Ribbon Award — the country’s most prestigious environmental award. And for our work in collaboration with the Papua New Guinea Olympic Committee, the team won the Oceania Sport and the Environment Award from the International Olympic Committee and United Nations Environment Programme in Sochi, Russia.


Our wintertime programme officially launched with a nationwide tour in 2014. Dubbed ‘Love Your Water’, the programme brought much-needed freshwater restoration education, riparian planting days and community engagement activities to every region of New Zealand. Continuing its long-standing relationship with the Department of Corrections, the charity helped build a nursery at a Waikato prison in an effort to reduce the costs of tree planting and to assist inmates in achieving horticulture qualifications.


In 2015 the official launch of Sustainable Coastlines Papua New Guinea was spearheaded by long-time team-member Ryley Webster, who had worked with locals in Port Moresby to build on the success of our existing grass-roots programmes since 2012. Alongside huge clean-ups, the Papua New Guinea chapter has created award-winning community engagement and educational activities that have been recognised as international best practice by the United Nations.


In response to high demand, in 2016 we established a partnership with International Volunteer HQ (IVHQ). This enabled travellers to engage with our cause and give something back during their time in New Zealand, allowing us to massively upscale our efforts.

Our ever-increasing international credibility also saw Camden invited to speak on plastic pollution at the United Nations headquarters in New York.


With our capacity and engagement scaling up, in 2017 we not only celebrated our 500th beach clean-up, but also the opening of The Flagship Education Centre!

Located in Auckland’s wonderful Wynyard Quarter, our unique events, education and training space is made from 85 percent salvaged and upcycled materials. It was built with the help of over 2,000 people, including inmates learning trade skills at two prisons, hundreds of Kickstarter campaign supporters, and dozens of sponsors that provided pro-bono materials, labour and services. This was a true collaboration that has created an inspiring model for sustainability.


Picking up the most prestigious youth award for sustainability in the world — the Energy Globe Award — for our work with young people and The Flagship, meant that our year began on a huge high. 

We also ramped up our training by launching our official Ambassador Programme, with induction weekends and targeted training to enable others to look after our waterways and coastlines.

We took the chance to reflect on ten years of Sustainable Coastlines, knowing that while the movement has gained massive momentum, the journey is far from over.


This year saw the official launch of our third programme, and NZ’s first litter database, Litter Intelligence, thanks to funding from the Ministry for the Environment. For the first time ever, citizen science data appeared in official government reporting when it appeared in Our Marine Environment. Litter Intelligence went on to inform national-level SDG monitoring efforts, and appeared in the government’s ‘Rethinking Plastics’ review.

We continued to engage with communities at a grass-roots level with a revamp of our DIY beach clean-up kits. In 2019, we also planted 68,033 trees — more than any year prior, testament to our ability to upscale our waterway restoration work by working closely with communities.


In February we farewelled Ryley Webster, after almost nine years at Sustainable Coastlines. And in May, co-founder Sam Judd announced his departure, after being instrumental in building the charity into the impactful and much-loved organisation it is today. 

Despite the challenges of a global pandemic, we still had some impressive wins. We celebrated the launch of our new, user-friendly website. We delivered successful clean-ups and school education, and we continued to build connections with communities, nurseries, and īwi groups alongside a successful tree-planting season.

In August the government announced its proposal to ban problem plastics, which drew on Litter Intelligence data. Not only brilliant news for our environment, this was testament to the power of citizen science-led data collection efforts.

Ending the year on a high, we scooped up the Sustainable Business Awards Tech For Good Award, a culmination of the year’s successes for Litter Intelligence and Sustainable Coastlines in general.


Aka’aka, Wallis and Futuna. Locals take part in a Litter Intelligence survey after receiving online training from the Sustainable Coastlines team, September 2021.

Delivering impactful events and inspiring people is at the heart of what we do, but our capacity to do so was impacted by Covid-19 lockdowns. We built on our other strengths, with a specific focus on nurturing meaningful relationships in the catchments where we focus our restoration efforts.

Renewed funding from the Ministry for the Environment meant we could train more citizen scientists to monitor a range of different beaches to provide a fuller picture of the litter problem, and continue our work bringing litter data into schools with the Litter Intelligence Education Programme. We began a collaboration with the South Pacific Regional Environment Programme, delivering online Litter Intelligence training to enable communities to run litter surveys in Fiji, Wallis and Futuna, Samoa, Vanuatu, and Tonga.

The Sustainable Business Awards honoured our team once again, with Camden Howitt being awarded the Sustainability Superstar award.


Kāpiti Island, Wellington. Volunteers remove fishing debris alongside their Litter Intelligence audit. Credit: Ministry for the Environment.

This year was one of progress and change. We farewelled our chairperson, Emma Dent, and welcomed long-term trustee Samantha Walmsley-Bartlett into the role. We ran our first-ever ‘Double Your Donation’ campaign, to great success. We helped to unite philanthropic efforts in the Waihou–Piako catchment, contributing building blocks for long-term community-led riparian planting. We also welcomed our first international volunteers through the IVHQ programme since 2020’s border closures.

Due to the success of Litter Intelligence, the Ministry for the Environment provided a further year of funding for the programme. We saw the first of the plastic bans coming into effect, which our litter data had helped to inform, and continued to work with communities in the Pacific.

In November, after 14 years of dedication to Sustainable Coastlines, our co-founder and programmes director, Camden Howitt made the decision to share his passion and expertise further afield. Camden had an indelible effect on what the charity looks like, what we do, and how we go about it — an influence that continues in the team’s mahi today.


Celebrating five years of Litter Intelligence at Little Shoal Bay in Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland.

In 2023, we zeroed in on what we initially set out to do: reduce the amount of litter that ends up on our coastlines. In March we kicked off Seaweek with the announcement of our new goal: to see 60% less litter on the coastlines of Aotearoa New Zealand by 2030.

We continued to support the efforts of other Pacific nations to tackle plastic pollution, and in August, celebrated five years of Litter Intelligence with a showcase attended by then-Associate Environment Minister Rachel Brooking.

Our 2022 annual report was awarded Highly Commended at the Charity Reporting Awards. To top off the year, in November, we were awarded the National Energy Globe Award for our Litter Intelligence programme!