Volunteering to give back to Aotearoa | Sustainable Coastlines

This month, June 2022, the team at Sustainable Coastlines is thrilled to welcome Jennifer McKnight, our first international volunteer after a two-year hiatus due to border closures.

To celebrate the re-establishment of our IVHQ (International Volunteer Headquarters) programme, and to recognise National Volunteer Week, 19–25 June, we chatted to Jennifer about her motivations for supporting Sustainable Coastlines, what she loves about Aotearoa, and her recommendations for Plastic Free July.

Jennifer at the Sustainable Coastlines education and events space, The Flagship in Tāmaki Makaurau’s Wynyard Quarter.

Hey Jennifer, can you tell us a bit about yourself?

“I’m from California, where I work as a tax accountant. I love travelling and spending time outdoors or at concerts when I can. In the past year I’ve been spending a lot of time at the climbing gym and taking kickboxing classes. A lot of my work time is spent sitting down, so any time off the clock I like to get out and move!”


What made you want to come to New Zealand?

“This is actually my third time here! I first came to New Zealand in 2015 when I was in my early twenties. That first trip really helped me to step out of my comfort zone — I got into all the outdoor activities on offer: rafting, ziplining, rappelling down waterfalls. I loved spending time in nature, and that carried through to my other travels and my life back home. But because this was where it all began, I keep wanting to return to New Zealand — the environment really resonated with me. It gave so much to me.”


What about the environment here resonates with you so much?

“It’s beautiful. It reminds me a bit of home, where there’s a bit of everything relatively close. I especially love the waterfalls and forests. I love it any time you can respectfully treat nature as your playground, and that’s very easy to do here.”


Where’s your favourite place in New Zealand?

“That’s so hard to say, it’s all so nice. On my first trip here, I went rafting in Rotorua down the Kaituna River. It was my first time white-water rafting; it was so fun, and the scenery was so beautiful. It sticks in my mind as one of the most pure experiences in my life. So yeah, I’d have to say the Kaituna River.”

A rapid on the Kaituna River.

What made you want to volunteer with Sustainable Coastlines?

“Because I’ve gotten so much from New Zealand’s natural environment, I really wanted to give back to it. I wanted to put some love back into a place that has already given me so much love, and the work SC is doing really falls in line with that.”


What kind of impact do you see Sustainable Coastlines as having?

“The other day we were laying out plants for a tree-planting day run alongside Auckland Council. There were 10,000 of them, which looked like a lot, and it was hard to imagine them all planted. We were at the planting the next day, and with all the volunteers, the trees were planted, no problem. So Sustainable Coastlines is obviously really good at bringing people together and making a collaborative impact. It’s really great for people to have the chance to work together as a community with a shared goal like that.”

“I know I’ll be back in New Zealand one day, and I’m looking forward to seeing those trees we planted all grown up. Which is also something that’s probably really satisfying for the locals.”

Te Hira Mayall-Nahi, Sustainable Coastlines’ IVHQ Coordinator, and Jennifer McKnight, at Puhinui Reserve in June 2022.

Plastic Free July is coming up — have you got any tips to share?

“It can be super hard to travel and be sustainable at the same time. You don’t have the convenience of your own dishes etcetera when you’re on a plane or other transport. The first thing I’d recommend to people is the simplest one: get a reusable drink bottle. It doesn’t take much work and can make a huge impact.

I would also say, vote with your dollars. Not everyone has the money to make sustainable choices, but if you have the ability to do it, the market will respond. It’s kind of like the vegan and vegetarian options that are in our supermarkets now compared with 10 or 11 years ago. Because companies saw the demand, we now have a great range. I think the same thing is happening with genuinely eco-friendly alternatives. If we vote with our dollars and tell the companies what we want, we’re making a difference.”