Clean-ups organised by Sustainable Coastlines have rid New Zealand’s beaches of hundreds of tonnes of waste – and it’s just getting started.
It’s sunset on a beach in St Heliers, an affluent Auckland suburb overlooking the volcanic Rangitoto Island. Camden Howitt, co-founder and programmes director of Sustainable Coastlines, picks up what you might call a “ufo” (unidentified flotsam object). “Hard plastic of unknown origin is really common,” he says.
New Zealand, a country of five million, has the world’s ninth-longest coastline: it’s more than 15,000km long. “As Kiwis, we’re very connected to our oceans and beaches,” says Howitt. But they’re not so keen on the rubbish that washes up on them. Since 2009, Sustainable Coastlines has held more than 1,400 Love Your Coast beach clean-ups, removing 225 tonnes of waste, about 75 per cent of which is plastic. The simple act of picking up debris from beaches has remained at its core (attracting more than 120,000 volunteers), even with its new programmes and national and international awards.
The Flagship, its central-Auckland HQ, was built by more than 2,000 volunteers, mostly from salvaged materials. The 19 staff, plus interns, in Auckland and elsewhere come from various backgrounds; the team includes scientists, creatives and educators. The organisation’s world-first Litter Intelligence has established New Zealand’s first national litter database; the resulting data is freely available. Its Love Your Water programme has taken more than 225,000 people to plant trees by rivers and streams, improving the quality of the water before it flows into the sea.
Sustainable Coastlines has held beach clean-ups on 12 other Pacific islands and Howitt hopes to expand worldwide. “We’re just beginning,” he says.
Howitt, 37, grew up by the seaside in sunny Christchurch. He studied product design and Spanish, and worked in advertising but wanted to do something that had a greater impact. At 25 he co-founded Sustainable Coastlines to clean up and protect our oceans. His programmes, passion and positive energy are still driving the organisation.
Becky Taylor Litter Intelligence Education Co-ordinator
Helen Adams-Blackburn Communications and Content Co-ordinator “Disseminator of ideas”
Veronica Rojo Partnerships and Campaign Manager
Josh Borthwick CEO
“The beard guy”
Jack Evans Communications and Marketing Intern
“Jack of all trades”
Dan Downing Programmes Manager
Caitlyn Prince Operations Intern
Ella Lambert Operations Intern
Head of Wellbeing
Natalia Groom Programme Co-ordinator
Stephanie Vercoe Strategic Partnerships Director
Kayla Swannack Education Intern
Shawn Elise Tierney Litter Intelligence Programme Manager