Coast Whangaparaoa

It’s hard to envisage a life without plastic. Over the past 70 years plastic products have become a staple in our lives, from food wrapping and milk bottles, to keyboards and home appliances. The properties that makes plastics so popular — their versatility, low cost, durability, lightness and imperviousness to water — also makes them so problematic. They are now present in nearly all manufactured products, they are so cheap that they are designed to be disposable, and they persist in the environment for a very, very long time.

 Sadly, much of this plastic ends up in our oceans. Worldwide, it is estimated that between 4.8 to 12.7 million t of plastic enters our oceans each year, which is equivalent to dumping the contents of one rubbish truck into the ocean every 38 seconds.75,76 Closer to home, New Zealanders litter over 9,000 t of plastic each year, which could end up in our oceans75. Seventy one percent of all beach-cast marine litter collected in Aotearoa is plastic.77 Unlike other types of marine litter that rapidly sink, most plastics float in surface waters where they can be entangled or eaten by fish, seabirds, turtles and marine mammals, causing health problems, starvation and death.36 A global study on plastic ingestion by seabirds predicted that 90% of seabirds, worldwide, were likely to have ingested plastic. 78

Aotearoa waters are predicted to have the highest plastic impact on seabirds due to the diversity and number of seabirds present. Similarly, 97% of South Pacific fish species were found to ingest plastic, including eight common species found in the Marine Park (parore, leatherjacket, kingfish, grey mullet, tarakihi, tāmure, jack mackerel and red gurnard). Parore and leatherjacket were found to have the highest plastic ingestion rates, with 70% of parore and 37% of leatherjacket sampled in the Marine Park having plastic in their guts.79 Concerned New Zealanders are volunteering with not-for-profit organisations such as Sea Cleaners (, Sustainable Coastlines ( and Ghost Fishing NZ ( to collect marine litter from our beaches and coastal waters. Sea Cleaners have removed over 8.8 million litres of rubbish from Auckland, Whangarei and Coromandel waterways since 2002, involving over 160,000 volunteer hours.

The trust currently operates a fleet of four boats and removes around 100,000 litres of litter each month from the waters of the Marine Park. Similarly, around 7,500 volunteers with Sustainable Coastlines have collected around 950,000 pieces of rubbish from beaches in the Marine Park since 2008, much of which is food-related litter. Sea Cleaners founder, Hayden Smith, has noticed large changes in marine litter in the Marine Park since he began in 2002. In the first few years, large rubbish convergence zones were present in the Waitematā Harbour and inner Marine Park, where they could spend all day collecting rubbish and still not remove all that was present. Due to on-going efforts by the trust and volunteers, these rubbish convergence zones no longer exist. Hayden has also noticed an increasing awareness in the public about the problem of marine litter, which was highlighted by the public’s support for the ban of single-use plastic bags. However, he believes that a greater public awareness is still needed of the fact that most litter on our streets will eventually end up in our waterways.

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