Filling a fadge with rubbish between Barn Bay and Sandrock
Bluff are (from left) Marietta Gibb, Robyn Hoglund and
Robin Manera. Photos by Marjorie Cook.
It seems inconceivable South Westland's rugged,
remote, boulder-piled beaches should be polluted by plastic.
But at the foot of most driftwood mountains, there's a drink
bottle, a sea-battered fishing float, or a tangle of ropes and
nets. Marjorie Cook reports.
A young fur seal with a bright green netting necklace
captured the hearts of many when its photograph was released
for publication by the Department of Conservation in 2010.
The photograph was taken by Doc staff at Gillespies Beach,
near Fox Glacier, and highlights the type of entanglements
marine animals endure when they come into contact with
fishing gear lost overboard.
This seal was lucky it was found and the net could be cut
from around its throat. Marine wildlife enthusiasts can only
imagine how many similar entanglements could occur to the fur
seals, Fiordland crested penguins, dolphins and whales that
occupy the west coast of New Zealand's South Island.
"It does happen and right around the country. If that seal
wasn't rescued, it would have died and rotted away and that
net would probably have washed away and killed something
else," Doc West Coast conservancy marine specialist Don Neale
There is no single agency responsible for co-ordinating and
advocating campaigns to reduce ocean litter. The main efforts
are being made by community groups of volunteers, assisted by
Doc where possible because of the effects on marine mammals.
Mr Neale advocates an interagency approach.
"Ultimately, the final solution is not to pick up all the
rubbish you can find. That is a worthwhile thing to do. But
ultimately, it is to get it at its source. If it is rubbish
being thrown off boats, it's for Ministry of Fisheries or
Maritime New Zealand.
"If it is getting into rivers, it's for regional councils ...
It is a real big problem, not just for us.
"I suppose you have heard of the Great Pacific Patch. So it
is local, regional, national and international," Mr Neale
(The Eastern Pacific Garbage Patch is found between
California and Hawaii, in the Pacific Ocean, and has been
created by ocean currents bringing tonnes of plastic rubbish
together into an area said to be twice the size of Texas:
Source National Geographic News article by Brian Hardwick,
July 31, 2009).
Last week, I joined eight South Westland volunteers and two
Doc staff on the first South Westland cleanup of some of the
most remote beaches in the country.
The beaches are part of a 2.6 million-hectare world heritage
area giving access to the Fiordland and Mt Aspiring national
The coast between Barn Bay and Big Bay is accessible only by
foot, boat or air and is visited only by hunters, fishers and
Some of the cleanup team already knew how much rubbish was
there because they did a coastal surveillance from the air
late last year.
Gorge River residents Robert Long and Catherine Stewart have
also been working over the summer, collecting dozens of
Ravensdown Fertiliser fadges [wool-bale size bags with robust
carry straps] full of plastic debris between their home and
Doc Franz Josef and South Westland community relations
manager Julian Tovey was surprised at the amount of rubbish.
The volunteers split into two teams for last week's cleanup,
with Mr Long and Ms Stewart and Fiordland Coast Walks guide
Grant McKinnon working from Big Bay up to Gorge River, with
an overnight camp at Hackett River.
At the northern end, Barn Bay bach owner Robyn Hoglund joined
forces with Haast residents Marietta Gibb and Robin Manera,
spending two days picking up rubbish between Sandrock Bluff
and Barn Bay.
Haast-based Greenstone Helicopters pilots Geoff Robson and
Peter Spencer-Bower used their Robinson 44 choppers to
provide transport, carry equipment and deposit the full
fadges at Gorge River for collection by Shane Nyhon in his
fishing boat, Southern Legend.
Once Mr Nyhon gets the rubbish to Haast, Doc will sort the
booty, identify its probable sources and contact businesses
to begin the next phase of the campaign to promote good
fishing practices and reduce ocean littering.
While it can be easy to point the finger at fishers - whether
commercial or recreational, locals or visitors - ocean
rubbish has lots of sources and rubbish drifts a long way.
Mr Tovey says the focus is on being positive with
encouragement rather than punitive with enforcement.
Sometimes gear is lost in circumstances beyond a fisher's
control, such as bad weather or in an accident.
Mr Robson used to own the Gorge River bach before Mr Long and
his family moved in but now lives at Neills Beach, where he
and his wife Pat and their sons Andrew and Mike operate Barn
Bay Fishing Company and a light engineering workshop, among
Mr and Mrs Robson also co-ordinate local marine
Mr Robson has been a keen "bush pilot" for many years and
recently joined forces with Mr Spencer-Bower (25) to form
The company provides commercial, tourism and search and
rescue services for South Westland, filling the gap left when
Dave Saxton's company Heliventures closed last year.
The weather was benign last week but several boats have met
with disaster in foul conditions along the South Westland
coast. We saw two wrecks last week.
One was an aluminium jet boat lost by former Barn Bay
fisherman Lou Brown.
(He and Gorge River resident Robert Long survived the ordeal
and Mr Long tells the adventure in his book A Life on
The other was Mr Long's dinghy, washed away in a storm from
Gorge River years ago and dumped many kilometres down the
coast, where it has languished under driftwood in an
increasingly dilapidated condition.
The dinghy was retrieved last week and flown back to Gorge
Creek, where Mr Long was to consider what to do with it.
Other stuff in the rubbish stockpile includes plastic drink
bottles, crayfish floats, buckets, nets and ropes, a rugby
ball, a car tyre and axle, and a sunhat. There is even the
ubiquitous plastic shopping bag.
The "Stolen from Talleys" stamp on a washed-up fish crate
causes lots of mirth. And yes, the fishing company can have
The volunteers believe much of the rubbish could have been in
the ocean for years.
The most bizarre find went to Ms Hoglund.
"I've found a lightbulb. A whole, unbroken lightbulb. And
heaps of plastic," she says.