Russell Blackstock

Russell Blackstock is a senior reporter at the Herald on Sunday.

NZ beaches: 100% impure

Surfer Chris Cochrane with rubbish found on Piha Beach. Photo / Herald on Sunday
Surfer Chris Cochrane with rubbish found on Piha Beach. Photo / Herald on Sunday

The Herald on Sunday is campaigning to get all of New Zealand out on the beaches this summer, keeping them clean for our kids and our grandkids.

Starting on Sunday 29 January at Orewa before the Summer Sunday festival, we'll be out with our rubbish bags - and we want you and your family to join us.

Government scientists are calling urgently for a water cleanliness monitoring programme. New research reveals our orca whales have the highest pollutant levels recorded in the Southern Hemisphere.

Record numbers of stinging jellyfish are being attracted by the runoff
that warms our inshore waters.

We've all had enough. Volunteers have removed 100 tonnes of trash from our beaches - but they need help.

Embarrassed about living the dream
Ross Barnett never used to be embarrassed about living the dream.

The tanned and fit kayak guide reckons he's led about 30,000 people on trips around the sun-kissed bays of Waiheke Island during the past 25 years.

Barnett runs his popular business from next to the main port at Matiatia.
But not all the tourists piling off the regular daily ferries from Auckland and into his kayaks are impressed with a day spent on the water, he reveals.

Increasingly, they have to navigate through a tide of rubbish that floats
from Auckland city and washes up on the beaches.

"Every year it gets worse," Barnett sighs. "It's embarrassing sometimes for overseas visitors to see it."

He is talking about everything from car tyres, old television sets and mobile phones that appear on the beaches to a daily flotilla of plastic bags, bottles and discarded food wrappers.

"Seeing people paddling through used toilet paper is pretty sickening
and in my time I've heard hundreds of comments from overseas tourists
about the amount of garbage that's out there," he says.

"There are places that I avoid taking people to in the kayaks now and, for a spot as beautiful as Waiheke Island, that is pretty sad.

"Our seas might be okay compared to places like Bali or India, but if New
Zealand is trying to create a clean, green image then we are a long way off that. Heck, yeah."

Long, hot summers spent lazing on our world-famous beaches have been a way of life for generations of ordinary Kiwis.

Now, government scientists are calling urgently for a national programme to monitor the quality of coastal waters.

Clive Howard-Williams, Niwa's chief scientist for coasts, says four out of five streams have been polluted by farming chemicals and animal waste, much of which makes its way into the sea.

"I suspect a significant proportion of the waters that flow around the coast will be in a less-than-ideal state," he says. "It is time we had a true picture for around the country and we urgently need a national programme for this."

Vital for tourism
Chief executive of Auckland's Chamber of Commerce, Michael Barnett spends five days a week crunching numbers at his office in Mayoral Drive.

But like many Aucklanders, at the weekend he swaps his business suit for shorts and Jandals to hit his favourite beaches or take a trip to Rangitoto Island, one of his favourite spots to relax.

"Our beaches and waterways are not only vital for tourism but they are
also for the enjoyment of the people of Auckland, so there is every reason why we should take pride in them," Barnett says. "They are the playgrounds of Auckland and that's why people come here to visit or live.

"The beaches should be a judgment on our New Zealand brand. We talk about being 100 per cent pure, well isn't it about time that some of our behaviour starts stacking that up?"

Barnett adds: "I am all for a campaign to clean-up the beaches. It's something we should all take some responsibility for."

The money men have a vested interest in New Zealand's beaches being in top condition. The golden sands feature in big-budget advertising campaigns aimed at attracting visitors to the country. Overseas and domestic visitors bring in a staggering $3.3 billion a year to the Auckland economy alone.

Auckland Tourism boss Jason Hill says: "The imagery we are using to
generate that revenue is a lot about the harbour, the water, the islands and the beaches."

There are not too many cities like Auckland, where you can be on a sandy beach within minutes from almost anywhere in the region.

"We have to take a long-term view of this and we are hugely supportive of the beach clean-up programmes."

The Herald on Sunday is teaming up with charity Sustainable Coastlines to get all New Zealand on the beac hes this summer,keeping them clean for our kids and grandkids.

Sustainable Coastlines boss Sam Judd first felt compelled to act six years ago when he witnessed the filth on the beaches of Mexico and Chile.

Following an extended trip to the Galapagos Islands in 2007 where he helped with his first beach clean-up, he started the charity with two Kiwi travelling mates when he returned home the following year.

"Single-use plastic like food packaging and bottles are the main offenders on our beaches," Judd says. "It's just all wrong that this is happening in New Zealand."

In the past four years, Sustainable Coastlines has worked with nearly
18,000volunteers to remove 100 tonnes of trash from New Zealand coastlines, and has conducted educational presentations to more than 20,000 school students. But they need more help, and that's where Herald on Sunday readers come in.

The clean-up began yesterday at Piha, on Auckland's west coast, and continues next Sunday at Orewa, north of Auckland. The more people who sign up through nzherald.co.nz and help the better.

Judd says:"We all have a part to play in keeping our beaches and waterways, which are among our biggest assets, at their very best."

Poisoned orca
Auckland eco-warrior Dr Ingrid Visser doesn't just talk the talk. This gung-ho scientist is often to be found in the ocean, swimming alongside the killer whales. Sometimes with a television documentary crew in
tow. She is the country's leading expert on orca.

Visser says her latest research shows the orca that live in New Zealand waters - fewer than 200 - have pollutant levels in their bodies that are the worst recorded in the Southern Hemisphere.

She says her own findings have shocked her. And she believes they
should shock every right-minded Kiwi too.

Visser insists if we don't do more to clean up our toxic waterways then the days of beach life as we know it will be numbered.

She paints a grim picture of increasingly sick fish and sea life, dolphins choking to death on plastic bags and swimmers being forced out of the sea by swarms of stinging jellyfish.

She cites chemicals from intensive farming seeping into the ocean as one
of the main reasons for the problems on the coast and beyond. Sewage is another culprit.

But the vast amounts of garbage created by people that is accumulating in the seas isn't helping either.

"Toxic chemicals are present in just about everything we use," Visser says. "The items we throw in the bin and that end up in a dump get crushed and what comes from there leaks into the streams then into the harbours.

"From there it gets into filter organisms like cockles and scallops and from there it goes right through the food chain and plays havoc with ecosystems in the ocean, which in turn will affect us too."

Visser believes many people don't recognise the true extent of the problem on our coasts because on the surface most beaches don't look that bad.

"It is time for a wake-up call before it is too late," she says. "I mean, we still dumprawsewage into the open ocean. It's absolutely disgusting.

"This might sound alarmist, but if the word gets out to the rest of the
world, what would that do to tourism and our economy? If things keep going the way they are going, who would want to come here for a holiday?"

Jellyfish onslaught
Just last week, kids playing at Waimarama and Ocean beaches in Hawke's Bay were left in tears when they were stung by jellyfish washed up on the shore.

Lifeguards rushed to treat a number of distressed beachgoers for stings
from blue bottle jellyfish, also knownas the Portuguese man-of-war. The sea creatures had been blownashore by an easterly breeze.

Most of the stings came from kids playing with them on the beach, prompting lifeguard leader Adam Dunnett to warn panicking children and parents to not touch them.

Last month, more people were stung when thousands of jellyfish coated
beaches on Wellington's south coast.

Niwa principal scientist Dr Dennis Gordon is concerned that increasingly
polluted waters are providing an accelerated breeding ground for jellyfish.

Gordon says every summer three main species crop up in higher numbers, a consequence of the warmer water encouraging the growth of plankton,
which jellyfish like to eat.

The main species of jellyfish found in New Zealand are the moon, spotted and lion's mane varieties. The latter two can produce nasty but not fatal stings.

"We are certainly seeing a rise in the numbers of conventional jellyfish in New Zealand waters and this is probably due to advanced plankton production caused by pollution in the water," he explains.

"This includes vitamins and trace minerals which run off the land from
farms and from rubbish dumps. Sewage is another problem. There is no
doubt that human activities are affecting this."

Gordon doesn't rule out scenarios similar to ones that have been unfolding in parts of Europe and Japan in recent years, where massive colonies of jellyfish have turned some beaches into no-go areas in summer.

In Spain, an army of amateur mariners are mobilised along the southern coast as jellyfish scouts, to operate as an informal early warning system to alert authorities on shore when an invasion is imminent.

"The one positive is that New Zealand has a relatively small population
and therefore we produce less waste than other countries," Gordon says.

"If these sort of infestations of large jellyfish were to occur here I would expect the Hauraki Gulf is where this might be first felt because it is largely enclosed and surrounded by a large population and a lot of farmland."

All Black shocker
World Cup-winning All Blacks coach Sir Graham Henry was stunned when he hooked a large packet of unused baby wipes when fishing for snapper off Waiheke Island last summer.

The rugby legend was ona boat with Herald on Sunday fishing columnist Geoff Thomas when he hauled in the surprise catch.

"Graham did catch a few decent fish that day but he couldn't believe it when he netted the wipes as well," Thomas says.

"He had a bit of a laugh about it and kept them to clean his hands with. But on a serious note, that sort of thing could stay in the water for years, if not decades, without perishing. It's irresponsible."

Leisure operators are simply sick of the mess.

Dania Stops is well used to pulling on a wet suit and oxygen tank to take parties of tourists to explore the deep. She is also used to negotiating past floating garbage on the water off picturesque Coromandel.

The senior instructor at Dive Zone at Whitianga says keeping diving areas clear of garbage for customers on a daily basis costs time and money.

"Most of our dive sites are clean all the time but that's because we are
always pickingm up stuff from the sea," she says.

"People need to be better educated about what they should do with their rubbish."

The main offenders include plastic mesh bait bags, discarded fishing line and the usual items of plastic.

"Our divers also do a big clear up at the wharf at Whitianga every year and some of the stuff they haul out of the water is incredible," Stops says. "There are usually two or three bikes, shopping trolleys and
cell phones. They also once found part of a sawn-off shotgun."

Chris Cochrane, 26, has been surfing since he was a teenager, but he says he is increasingly hampered by floating debris.

"It's really not very pleasant having to dodge pieces of trash and plastics and I have no doubt this is getting worse," he says. "The Raglan area is great for surfing but there is now quite a bit of rubbish
in the water and it is washing up on the shores. Lyall Bay in Wellington is pretty bad now too."

Cochrane, who lives in central Auckland, says as a teen one of his top spots for surfing was at the Ashley River mouth in Canterbury. Now he avoids it.

"When I was a youngster that place used to be beautiful. Now you can actually smell the dairy run-off that's being pumped into the water. I certainly would be keeping my mouth well closed if I ever swam or surfed there again."

He says it's time for all New Zealanders to work together to clean-up the
messonour coastline.

"It is not something you associate with New Zealand - and it's a real eye-opener."

Hauraki's debris highway

Clean-up volunteers are baffled by thousands of bright blue and red plastic shavings they have collected from beaches around New Zealand.

Shaped a bit like pieces of swirly pasta, the plastic debris has been washing up for the past few months all over the upper North Island.

"My best guess is that they come from people drilling holes in plastic berley barrels used for holding fish bait," says Sam Judd, head of Sustainable Coastlines.

"But if that is the case fishermen must be drilling them out at sea, which doesn't make sense as this would be a lot harder to do on a moving boat than it would be on dry land.

"They are a bit of a nuisance and a worry is that they might degrade to a point where fish start eating little bits of plastic and get poisoned."

John Oldman, senior consultant with Raglan-based coastal management company ASR Ltd, is also bamboozled.

"I have seen these things when out kayaking but never been able to figure out quite what they are," he says.

ASR Ltd is working with the Herald on Sunday to trace back through the swirling sea currents, in the hope of ascertaining where they are entering the water - and ultimately, who is responsible.

Do you recognise what the plastic shavings are or know where they come from?
If so email us at editor@hos.co.nz


HOW YOU CAN HELP

Join the Herald on Sunday and Sustainable Coastlines on the beaches this summer. The next clean-up is on Sunday 29 January before the Summer Sunday festival along the Matakana and Orewa coast.

Make sure you're counted! You can register your support or participation through nzherald.co.nz or at facebook.com/sustainablecoastlines


YOUR CHANCE TO WIN BIG

Win a camera every week

Take a photo of your friends or family cleaning up your favourite beach and go in the draw to win a Sony Cyber-shot TX10, valued at $649.95. With an Underwater Sweep Panorama function and 16.2 Mega Pixels you'll be able to take stunning underwater photos, as well as crystal clear shots on land. We have one camera to give away every week for the next 10 weeks to the person who takes the best photo, as judged by Herald on Sunday illustrations editor Chris Marriner. Five runners-up will each receive a copy of the book Beached As - New Zealand Beaches Then and Now by Craig Levers.

GRAND PRIZE

At the end of our Beach Busters campaign, the overall winner will receive a grand prize package comprising:

* a Sony Tablet S valued at $749.95

* a dive, snorkel or sightseeing trip for two to the Poor Knights Marine Reserve courtesy of Dive! Tutukaka

* $400 worth of clothing from surf label Sitka.

Entries close each week at Friday noon, and the winning photo will be printed each Sunday. So get snapping, and email your best shot as a JPEG to pictures@hos.co.nz with 'Beach Busters' in the subject line. Make sure you include your name, address and daytime phone number. Include a caption giving the place and full names of the people in the photo.

Please see terms and conditions at www.nzherald.co.nz/HOScompetitions. APN New Zealand reserves the right to store electronically any pictures entered in the competition and to use the images in any of its publications.

- NZ Herald

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