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Rubbish collectors all at sea

Helping the marine environment

Published: 21 December 2020

One of Auckland’s longest-serving rubbish-collectors has been busy on your doorstep for 20 years.

Sea Cleaners’ boss Hayden Smith has spent two decades with various groups pulling rubbish out of our waterways, much of that time on the Manukau and Waitematā harbours.

But Manurewa-Papakura Auckland Councillor Daniel Newman says COVID-19 has made funding harder to come by, and that’s bad news for our environment.

“Quite rightly all council organisations, and I’m sure businesses, are looking at their spending and sponsorships, but this is one I believe has to continue.

“We can find millions for the America’s Cup, which showcases the Waitematā, so surely there’s money to actually protect that environment.”

Smith led a deputation to Papakura Local Board on the group’s clean-up efforts, telling members Sea Cleaners and other groups had removed about 10 million litres of rubbish from waterways.

“Your household rubbish bag is 50 litres, so it’s a lot. If we put it all in one place, we’d need 350 big shipping containers to move it.”

Despite the size of the problem, he remains upbeat.

“We have tremendous support from sponsors, iwi, businesses, schools and volunteers, including a lot of council staff, but every piece of litter we collect came from an urban street.

“The ocean is downhill of everywhere.”

Because of the Manukau Harbour's mudflat environment, Smith says dense mangroves hide the extent of the problem.

He’s hoping a hovercraft will get into areas boats can’t, so volunteers can remove a big polluter – old tyres. “It’s not just the Manukau, we find them everywhere.”

It’s estimated New Zealand imports seven million tyres a year, many ending up in landfills, on farms, and even in coastal erosion work.

“There’s no shortage of them in the water, and every single one puts chemicals into the environment.”

Smith, a New Zealander of the Year Local Hero Medallist in 2011, is confident things are changing. “It’s about motivating and educating young people on an issue we need to work together on to preserve our waterways for our marine life and future generations.”

Papakura Local Board member Keven Mealamu says it’s encouraging to see businesses and schools taking practical action to protect the environment.

“The Puhinui is critical to us and our Manurewa neighbours, running through our areas before it reaches the Manukau. Everything in it or on its banks, finds its way to the sea. We have to do our part by encouraging people to change their behaviour through community involvement and education.”

That’s a view Cr Newman agrees with. “We have to be the change ourselves and to encourage others to join us. Every time we stop one person throwing litter into the gutter or dumping rubbish into the Pahurehure Inlet or Puhinui Stream, it’s a victory for our oceans.”

Alongside appeals for continued support of conservation work, Smith had a simpler message. “If you see a piece of rubbish, just stop and pick it up.”

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