The Deep South gets a deep clean

Bags of rubbish are unloaded in Bluff after a Stewart Island beach clean-up. Photo: Johan Groters
Bags of rubbish are unloaded in Bluff after a Stewart Island beach clean-up. Photo: Johan Groters
Volunteers recently rid Stewart Island’s west coast of 16.6 tonnes of rubbish. Jono Edwards examines a trust’s efforts to return its beaches to their pristine past.

Dunedin volunteer Teresa Wasilewska was horrified when she travelled to remote sections of Stewart Island to find them covered in rubbish.

"I went tramping there last year and was absolutely appalled about the rubbish on Doughboy Beach, which is  pretty isolated."

So when she learned of a group dedicated to journeying to the island and cleaning tonnes of waste off the beaches, she was there "boots and all".

More than 30 volunteers spent five days scouring the island’s western coastline this month in an effort organised by the Southern Coastal Charitable Trust.

The trust was formally created last year, but since 2012 has organised two major clean-ups in Stewart Island and Fiordland.

On the recent trip they battled through wind and rain to extract 16.6 tonnes of rubbish from the coast.

Ms Wasilewska said the currents and winds conspire to make the west coast of the island a gathering area for rubbish.

Boi Rickertsen, of Invercargill, sits on bags of rubbish collected on the beaches of Stewart Island.
Boi Rickertsen, of Invercargill, sits on bags of rubbish collected on the beaches of Stewart Island.
Most was equipment from the fishing industry, including  bins, rope and nets, but there was also other general human litter, including drinking bottles and bread crates.

"One beach that we cleaned up, it was an absolutely stunning beach, and the tide was going out. As each wave receded it left this little line of coloured bits of plastic."

On some beaches rubbish was buried in the dunes, while on others it would float in the water.

One keen-eyed observer found a bone with a band around it which was later identified by Te Papa as from a Southern Buller’s Albatross, banded on Big Solander Island on 1996.

The journey of one fishing bin, traced to South America, was a mystery."What the trust is doing is pretty impressive," Ms Wasilewska said.

The project cost more than $100,000 and involved litter transport by land and sea.The volunteers  filled large bags, which two helicopters  then took to the Foveaux Freighter.

While much of the rubbish was from the fishing industry, Ms Wasilewska commended companies for mitigating this with major support for the project.

It supplied the majority of volunteers and finances.

Seafood New Zealand communications manager Lesley Hamilton said the industry acknowledged its contribution to the problem and worked to improve on-board practices to minimise and manage rubbish and lost gear.

"Yes, the industry is committed to the clean-up. Deepwater group sponsored the clean-up for a second year, while fishing companies Talley’s and Sanford also made donations and staff from each company volunteered their time as well."

Volunteers Bevan Todd, of Cromwell (left), and Johan Groters, of Clifton, extract a large net...
Volunteers Bevan Todd, of Cromwell (left), and Johan Groters, of Clifton, extract a large net buried in the sand. Photo: Boi Rickertsen
Trust administrator Joyce Kolk said the project started after experiences she and her husband had transporting tourists with their Wairaurahiri Jet business.

"We’d go through pristine Fiordland down a wild river to the coast. We’d stop and have lunch and we’d just see the rubbish that was collecting."It just wasn’t a good look for our perceived green image."

However, on Stewart Island the rubbish was far more concentrated.

Much of what was found was re-used, she said.In the Stewart Island project the freighter would take the bags to Bluff, and much of it would be taken back by fishing companies.

"We take it to the Bluff Oyster Festival compound and recycle what we can.

"The oyster fest use some of it as decoration in their compound. It’s quite cool, you can look up and say ‘hey, I found that’."

In the first Stewart Island excursion the group collected 20 tonnes of rubbish, and only three went to landfill.

However, she expected that proportion would  be larger this time.

"We’re finding smaller-sized hard bits of plastic. We didn’t used to find that.

"Some of the lost fishing gear is expensive; most fisherman don’t want to lose that. I’ve heard a decent-sized trawl net is $50,000."

She had not  seen an animal trapped in these nets during the projects, but imagined it happened.

"I don’t doubt some get tangled. I’ve seen it in the Catlins."

Because of the success of the projects, she expects to continue them into the future.

While the rubbish comes back, the landscape of the beaches changes by the time they are done.

"They’re clean when we leave, it really is satisfying. It’s the best bit."

jono.edwards@odt.co.nz

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