As we head into the silly season, much of New Zealand is working hard to tidy up loose ends before heading to the beach.
One of the quintessential summertime sounds that we have come to expect when we finally get to don the jandals for an extended break is the squawk of the ever-present seagull.
I will admit that in the past I did think of these birds as 'flying rats' when seeing the way that they fought over the chips that kids throw for them, but I have come to realise that actually, these birds are really part of our national identity.
Though alas, studies are now indicating that this may no longer be the case for our kids.
Approximately 90 per cent of seabirds have been found to have plastic in their stomachs and shockingly for us, it appears that the worst-hit locations are not out in the areas where there is a high population, but right in our back yard.
It is happening here too
I am deeply saddened to have to say this problem is very real and having a direct impact at home. Three years ago, after running a presentation with a group of school students in Colville, our team took them down to clean up the beach. One of the students found the dead pied oyster catcher, which is pictured above, with eight pieces of rubbish in its gut. This bird had eaten plastic rubbish that is likely to have floated across in westerly winds from Auckland. We know this because of the abundance of plastic parking ticket receipts that were on the same stretch of coastline with the Auckland Council logo on them.
Whilst it may be no surprise that this endemic species is in decline, I find this realisation seriously troubling.
Even seagulls are rapidly declining and our current rate of biodiversity loss (as I have complained about before ) is nothing short of appalling, when you see how many species humans have decimated since Aotearoa separated from Gondwanaland.
What can we do about this?
The one part of this story that I do take heart from is that the students that we do manage to raise funds to deliver educational services to, are really starting to take the message on board. We can see that there is an actionable solution. We are now training people in how they can run these programs in an effort to spread the message further across New Zealand and curb the threat of plastics. If anyone is interested in this, please email me and join us on this satisfying mission.
The easiest solution that you can readily action is to influence plastic production through your purchasing decisions. It has - unsurprisingly - been clearly shown that the more plastic we produce, the more ends up in seabirds.
So when you are out there buying Christmas presents, think about the materials you are consuming and whether poor quality plastic toys and wrapping could be replaced with something more sustainable such as wood, or even gift an experience that will connect people to nature and make them care about it, like a trip to the Poor Knights Marine Reserve or Kapiti Island.
Avoid in particular synthetic clothing. Every time you wash a polar fleece garment (whether it is made of recycled plastic or not - this is one of the biggest pieces of 'green wash' I have ever come across) thousands of pieces of micro plastics enter the ocean when your washing machine drains and plenty of this is found in the guts of birds.
Beyond purchasing, make sure you dispose of what you feel you 'have to use' responsibly - it is as easy as that.