Sam Judd
Comment on the environment from nzherald.co.nz columnist Sam Judd

Sam Judd: How to stop the Zika virus? Don't litter

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Mosquito Lab microbiologist Spencer Lockwood sorts mosquitos collected in a trap. AP photo / LM Otero
Mosquito Lab microbiologist Spencer Lockwood sorts mosquitos collected in a trap. AP photo / LM Otero

The heat this summer has really been something else. Even after ditching all the blankets, I have still had to open windows and doors to get to sleep.

But unless I pass out straight away, I have been getting kept up by mosquitoes buzzing around my head.

One of my favourite quotes is from the Dalai Lama, who said: 'If you think you are too small to make a difference, try sleeping with a mosquito'.

Of course it is not just sleep disruption that these irritating creatures cause. Right now, there is widespread panic about the Zika virus - one of many diseases for which mosquitos are a vector.

When I heard about Jen Byrn's diagnosis (one of 11 confirmed cases in New Zealand - all of which were picked up overseas) it was little surprise that she contracted it in Tonga.

I spent eight months working on a huge clean-up there and a big motivating factor was to reduce habitat for mosquitoes that spread dengue fever, because they breed in stagnant water - often caused by discarded rubbish.



To try and battle these diseases, the Tongan authorities have been handing out mosquito nets but this must be combined with clean-up operations and improvement of waste management infrastructure, otherwise it is a futile exercise.

In New Zealand, we have had major problems with tyres. Due to the cost of disposal and investigating offences under the litter act not being a priority for police, many tonnes of tyres - which are particularly effective breeding grounds for mosquitoes - get dumped into nature.

So, what can we do about it?

Firstly, I think we need systems in place for proper disposal of materials. Then we need to educate and motivate people to use these systems and keep consumption of materials to a minimum. Once all efforts have been made to positively influence behaviour and some people still persist in offending, then I think they should be hit in the pocket.

In terms of systems - The Ministry for the Environment are encouraging innovators who can recycle used tyres by offering grants to create solutions. I came across one exemplary business that operates along these lines called Numat, based in Oamaru, who use chipped up tyres to create safety matting (amongst other products) for playgrounds.

In the education space, we are starting to see how important it is to connect people to nature - which we do through events - as it gives people a reason to care and take personal responsibility for their actions. The New Zealand Association for Environmental Education are an excellent collective of people and organisations who are actioning this.

We are collaborating on a huge coastal clean-up in the Manukau Harbour which is happening as part of Seaweek - for anyone who wants to get involved and see how powerful connecting people to nature can be.

We need support to increase the education and awareness raising however, to make real progress here.

The final measure that I suggest is for those people (generally older men) who are so set in their ways that they will not listen to the reasons why littering is wrong - is slap them on the wrist with a fine. List MP Jono Naylor and Auckland Central MP Nikki Kaye have proposed an increase of fines for littering. Of course the goal here is to deter litterbugs, which I most certainly support, but unless it is coupled with effective enforcement on the ground, it will be a waste of time.

Perhaps we should arm parking wardens with the power to impose fines for littering? It would make the city nicer to be in, reduce the contamination of our kaimoana and stop annoying mosquitoes from spreading disease.

What else do you think we could do to combat littering?

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