It's ugly, dirty - and costing us tens of thousands of dollars a year across the Western Bay. In a special series on illegal rubbish dumping, we meet people aiming to help clean up our region.

A seagull stuck in builder's foam nearly drowned, a tui with twine wrapped around its legs died of starvation, and penguin chicks unable to be fed after beer cans shoved under rocks blocked the entrance to burrows.

Those are just a few cases Tauranga's vets and marine enthusiasts see daily as a result of rubbish being dumped into local waterways.

Holistic Vets director and veterinarian Dr Liza Schneider said she had seen seagulls, shags, hedgehogs, ducks, tui, blackbirds, cats and dogs that had been injured by rubbish.

"The direct impact can be injury, debilitation and death," Schneider said. "The indirect effects are pollution of the natural environment which can lead to habitat loss and also disease."

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Schneider said many birds become entangled in fishing line and come in with fishhooks and lures stuck in their beaks or other parts of their body.

A seagull with a fish hook stuck in its beak. Photo/Supplied
A seagull with a fish hook stuck in its beak. Photo/Supplied

The veterinarian had also cared for a seagull that became stuck in builder's foam which encased its legs, and it nearly drowned.

"Thankfully it was brought into ARRC where we carefully removed the casing, and she was released," she said.

Schneider also encountered a tui that starved to death after twine wrapped around its legs made it difficult or impossible for the bird to feed, and ducks that cut their feet on sharp wire.

A hedgehog's neck was once strangled by the round plastic at the base of a plastic milk bottle top. "It had cut deeply into its flesh, and the wounds were infected with maggots," Schneider said.

Marine animals such as turtles, whales and seabirds were also vulnerable to ingesting plastics, Schneider said.

"A study recently found that one-third of turtles found dead on New Zealand beaches had ingested plastic. Plastic clogs up their digestive systems and causes death."

Julia Graham from Western Bay Wildlife Trust said she found three penguins killed by fishing line or string, a dead kingfisher and four dead shags from fishing line left on the rocks.

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"I have saved several penguins and chicks from starvation by removing plastic bottles and beer cans that had been shoved under rocks or in holes blocking the burrow entrances and stopping birds from getting to their chicks," Graham said.

An injured penguin stuck in fishing line. Photo/Supplied
An injured penguin stuck in fishing line. Photo/Supplied

There were about 150 penguins on Moturiki [Leisure] Island and about 600 on Mauao, she said.

Graham said balloon releases with the string attached posed a significant threat to seabirds.

"Glass can also cut up penguins' feet and cause injuries as they try and get to their burrows," she said.

Graham said small bits of plastic get eaten by birds and they die. "They also feed them to their chicks and they starve to death."

Rubbish found mostly in the penguin nesting areas included glass and plastic bottles, string and fishing line, balloons, small bits of plastic including lids and lighters and lots of clothing and single jandals.

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Plastic bags and takeaway coffee cups also washed up a lot.

Tauranga marine expert Nathan Pettigrew's biggest concern was fishing line left lying around which seals, penguins and oystercatchers were getting tangled up in.

"I haven't seen first-hand the effects of plastic and rubbish on any marine life in the sense of whales and dolphins, but I have seen birds with fishing line wrapped around their legs," Pettigrew said.

Pettigrew said he had seen a lot of seals being caught up in drifting fishing line around Mauao.

An injured seal. Photo/supplied
An injured seal. Photo/supplied

"A lot have been entangled in fishing line, or they have had fishing hooks in their mouths and the fishing line trailing behind them," he said.

He said if rubbish and plastic makes its way to the ocean, the impact on marine life was life-ending.

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"If a whale, dolphin, turtle or anything ingested plastic it won't break down, it blocks their system, and they end up dying," Pettigrew said.

If people saw birdlife in trouble, Pettigrew said it was "best to leave it to the experts". "A bird that is threatened could go for an eye," he said.

Pettigrew said Kiwis were "pretty good" at picking up their rubbish around the city's waterways.

"What we are not so good at is making an effort to pick up rubbish in the water," Pettigrew said.

Pettigrew had paddled from the Mount to Kawera Parade and had to stop six times to pull rubbish out of the ocean. "They were pretty big pieces too that should not have been missed."

Pettigrew said numbers of turtles were increasing throughout the North Island and it appeared they suffered from plastic ingestion.

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"Leatherback turtles eat jellyfish, and they can sometimes mistake a plastic bag for a jellyfish," he said.

He encouraged other boaties to help pick up any rubbish in the water when they see it and pleaded for fishers to be aware of any fishing line left lying around. "Don't let it float by," he said.

What can you do?
- Contact ARRC Wildlife Trust or Western Bay Wildlife Trust.
- Approach birds quietly and calmly ensuring that you do not endanger yourself or the bird in the process.
- Use a towel or sheet to cover the bird's head and enclose their wings to prevent flapping.
- If you area able to fix the problem and there are no obvious wounds then do this and release the bird.
- If not then place the bird in a box that doesn't allow for too much movement and has holes in for ventilation with leaves, newspaper or an old towel lining the bottom. Keep handling to a minimum to help reduce stress.
- Put the box in a warm (not hot), dark and quiet place, away from cats and dogs and give ARRC or a similar organisation a call to determine the next best step.
- When transporting birds in a vehicle be sure to have the radio/tape off and close car doors quietly.