Not for sale

One-man mission travels round NZ to keep rubbish from fouling water.

West Coaster Des Watson believes all Kiwis can do something about cleaning up our waterways and oceans — and he's leading by example.

Watson, 39, has set off on a mission around the New Zealand coastline to collect rubbish from beaches, streams and rivers and to raise awareness of pollution. He started his journey at Karamea, about 100 km north of his home town of Westport, in January, and worked his way south along the West Coast as far as the glaciers by mid-March.

Watson has always been interested in the environment and has long wanted to make a positive contribution. After living and working in Marlborough for the past four years, he has left his job to embark on his mission, which he expects will take at least two years, covering the coasts of both the North and South islands.

"I'm surprised how much rubbish there has been and some places are worse than others," Watson says. "Greymouth was quite massive — there was an old rubbish dump on the shore there that got washed out about a year ago in a storm; that spread rubbish right along the coastline.


"You can't change what happened in the past but why would you put a landfill next to beaches and rivers?"

To fund his mission, Watson has been picking up casual work along the road. He has also set up a Give A Little page to help cover fuel and dumping costs.

"I haven't had to pay to dump any rubbish so far — I just explain to them what I'm doing and they have let me dump it for free."

He has also set up a Facebook page, Kiwis Clean Aotearoa, on which he posts photographs and videos which show the extent and range of the refuse he is collecting.

Des Watson. Photo / Supplied.
Des Watson. Photo / Supplied.

Watson is gathering rubbish from land and sea, but predominantly around beaches and waterways, to stop it from affecting the ocean ecosystem.

"What I have noticed so far is that freedom camping areas are mostly all good but there's one I've seen at Cobden in Greymouth where there are 30-40 campers a night and only three little rubbish bins, overflowing with plastic.

"It only takes one person to put rubbish on the ground and then everyone thinks it's okay and you're left with all this stuff blowing around in the wind — and it's nearly always windy at the beach.

"I'm not too impressed to see that but all I can do is express my concerns — I don't have the money to buy bigger rubbish bins."


As well as casual littering, other sources of plastic pollution on West Coast beaches are rope and other waste from commercial fishing operations; silage wrap, blown to the coast from farms; and illegal 'fly-tipping' sites.

"At Karamea there was a big dumping site — it wasn't just one person, it was multiple people dumping stuff in there," he says.

While on the road, Watson is living in a converted trailer with, a bed, gas cooker, a toilet and sink, and solar panels which run a small fridge. However, so far he has been offered many places to stay along the way by people who support his mission.

"People have been opening their homes to me. I have a yarn to them and tell them what I'm doing and often they'll offer to put me up for the night," he says. "It's been really great — the locals are getting behind me. It's good to get a bit of encouragement because it's not a nice job, especially when you have to pick up nappies and stuff like that."

While Watson is largely on a lone mission, he has had friends and locals pitching in to help: "There were a couple of guys who came and gave me a hand for a day in Greymouth, to pull out some tyres and other rubbish from the beach."

He estimates that so far he has collected around four tonnes of rubbish. One his most unusual finds so far is a whole toilet, abandoned near the Treetop Walk at Hokitika.

"I was going down the side of the road picking up some rubbish. There was a wetland in the bush and I could see some rubbish, so I walked in there and saw this patch of white in the water. It was a whole toilet, which was pretty weird."

Watson says it's easy to not do anything and just complain about the state of the environment.

"Most people turn a blind eye to what's right there in front of us. All that rubbish that is in drains, things like cigarette butts and bottle caps and wrappers — all that stuff is getting washed down and it's ending up in our oceans."

His message to other Kiwis: "New Zealanders can make a difference. If you're walking along the beach, take a bag with you and pick up any rubbish you see. Just do your bit."

To donate to Des and his mission click here.