Wednesday, 13 November 2019

WHITIANGA WEATHER

Rubbish horror on our beaches

Almost 900 pieces of rubbish ranging from chips packets to old shoes were recently collected at two short stretches of the Whitianga shoreline by a class of students from Dive Zone Whitianga.

The Dive Zone students and instructors were shocked at the massive haul accumulated in just 20 minutes of clean-up at Buffalo Beach and the Whitianga Harbour.

As part of their focus on the environment, DiveZone undertakes frequent clean-up operations at various points along the Coromandel coast and their eye-witness accounts suggest the problem extends across the Peninsula. Instructor, Elise Norman, said the volume of waste turning up on our shoreline is increasing and many people are not even aware that it’s happening.

“It isn’t always that obvious, but when you get in behind the rocks, it’s pretty bad.”

Elise and her students counted and documented the items to try and get a picture of where the rubbish is coming from. While a small amount is marine, the majority is household waste that is being left behind, deliberately dumped at beaches or washing up with the tide.

“We found bottles, cans, lots of plastic like chips packets and an unbelievable amount of cigarette butts,” she said. The team picked up a total of 896 pieces of waste on just a 20 - 30 metre total stretch of shoreline on 7 August, the same day visitors and locals were enjoying the spectacular sight of orcas playing in the shallows. “It’s just so sad, we have this beautiful environment that we all love, but what are we doing to look after it,” Elise added.

The haul included the following -  Soft Plastics: 311, Hard Plastics: 87, Polystyrene: 15, Cigarette Butts: 227, Aluminium Cans: 13, Plastic Bottles: 7, Bottle Caps: 26, Pieces of broken glass: 51, Foil Packaging: 30, Clothing/Shoes: 9, Odd Objects: 21 and Paper: 99.

The results of other recent clean ups at Kuaotunu and Te Karo Bay (Sailor’s Grave) north of Tairua have been equally confronting with large piles of litter retrieved from on and around the beaches. Elise, who has been doing this work for four years, said she believes the situation is getting worse.

“I don’t think people really realise how bad it is. You can come to the beach and it all looks beautiful and pristine. You may not be aware of what is out of sight. We definitely need to see more initiatives to try and address this,” she said.

As well as trying to raise public awareness by posting photos of the rubbish on their Facebook page, Dive Zone also sent the images to Thames-Coromandel District Council. DiveZone owner, Linda Bird, said the pictures told a dark story on what is washing up on our shorelines and being dropped by tourists and visitors in what we think are pristine corners of our Peninsula. 

Council spokesperson, Laurna White, speculated that the rubbish collected looked like it was either dropped at sea and washed ashore or may have ended up in street gutters and washed out to sea in stormwater drains.

“Our Council is pushing a national campaign to the public promoting the pack in/pack out message throughout our District. We are currently installing signage at spots around the District - with support from iwi, DOC, the New Zealand Transport Authority and Waikato Regional Council - about the Tiaki promise. We are also going to ramp up our general waste minimisation over the next few months ahead of the summer season,” said Laurna.

The Tiaki promise is a nationwide initiative encouraging visitors to pledge to be protectors of New Zealand during their time travelling here.

While Elise believes everyone has a collective responsibility to try and address this growing scourge, she also would like to see more leadership from government.

“I think people do care, they just often aren’t aware of how serious the issue is. If we had more initiatives where people could get involved in helping to clean up parts of our area, I think they would be willing to help out,” she said.

Pictured: Some of the 896 pieces of rubbish collected by local dive students along the Whitianga shoreline.

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The Mercury Bay Informer is a highly popular community newspaper, based in Whitianga. The paper is distributed throughout the Coromandel Peninsula, coast to coast from Thames to north of Colville.