Harbour spring clean highlights ocean rubbish problem

On Saturday 19 November a team of divers from Wellington Underwater Club (WUC) and Ghostfishing NZ, along with their supporters, will spend the day beneath the waves. They’ll be cleaning up rubbish that’s been thrown, blown, dropped or driven into the harbour as part of their annual ‘Wellington Harbour Spring Clean Up’.

The Wellington Underwater Club and Ghostfishing NZ run the annual event to put the focus on marine pollution and to help people understand that domestic rubbish can end up in the sea, where it can be harmful to the environment and the creatures that call it home.

WUC President Nicole Miller said, “Last year’s divers recovered 3 tonnes of rubbish, and we’re expecting to pull up a similar amount this year. We’re interested in what we might find this year – previous years have seen us haul up cans, bottles, road cones, cigarette butts, tyres, shopping trolleys and even a scooter.”

The WUC regularly holds technical and recreational dives around Wellington’s shores. When they’re not exploring the ocean or running training dives at the Kilbirnie pool, the Club members are active advocates for the marine environment. Understandably, they’re passionate about protecting their underwater playground and the critters who live there.

Once we bring the rubbish to the surface, every piece is checked for sea creatures – it’s process we call de-crittering. We have experts from Island Bay Marine Education Centre on hand to make sure that the creatures, such as octopus, starfish, crabs and the like, are removed safely and returned to the sea.”

Nicole says, “While road cones and shopping trolleys obviously don’t belong in the ocean, even the smaller pieces of rubbish, such as cigarette butts, are harmful. The fish eat the cigarette butts because they think it’s food, but just as smoking is not good for human’s health, it’s not good for fish either, as the cigarette butts are full of dangerous toxins. Plastic that ends up in the ocean is also an issue as, unlike organic material, it doesn’t degrade – it simply breaks down into tiny pieces and enters marine food chains. Plastic pollution like this is an immense problem in many parts of the world, including Wellington.”

Wellington’s compact size means the harbour can be accessed from almost anywhere in the city. But this also means that rubbish tends to find its way to the harbour just as easily.

It starts with something simple, like a ripped rubbish bag outside your house or a coffee cup blown out of an overflowing bin. No matter where it came from, rubbish gathers in the gutter, is carried through the drains and ends up in the harbour,” Nicole explained.

One of the reasons why we run this event is to help people understand that what they do on the land has an impact on the marine environment, and to take care to dispose of their rubbish appropriately.”

Rob Wilson, a member of WUC also runs Ghostfishing NZ, an organisation that has a specific focus on removing old fishing gear, such as fishing lines and nets, from the sea.

Ghostfishing NZ’s role in these clean-ups is to specialise in bringing up the bigger and heavy items, like large truck tyres and the scooter we recovered last year. Like WUC, we’re really passionate about raising awareness about the effect of rubbish on the marine environment. New Zealand has a clean green image – we want to let people know that they should be thinking clean blue as well,” Rob says.

At the end of October, WUC joined with Plastic Free Peninsular to hold a warm-up event at Miramar Wharf, before the main Harbour Spring Clean Up.

The Miramar event saw around 70 kids and adults gather and de-critter the equivalent of about 27 council bags of rubbish.

It was a great community effort and a real eye-opener for many of the people there to see how much rubbish was collected from around the wharf. Sadly, we estimated the rubbish we collected on the day was only around a tenth of the rubbish around the wharf, so we’ll be organising another day there in 2017.”

We are grateful for the support that we get from a range of organisations, including other dive clubs, Wellington City Council, Sustainable Coastlines and Island Bay Marine Education Centre. They are all organisations that care passionately about our environment, whether it is on the land or in the sea.”

The 2016 Wellington Harbour Spring Clean Up takes place on Saturday 19 November, Taranaki Wharf, by The Boatshed, from 10:00am onwards. Come down to see the terrible trash they find at the bottom of our beautiful harbour.


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