Crew Blog | Tara O’Neill: What a Great Problem!
Known today for its many wineries, olive groves and beautiful beaches, Waiheke Island is a popular vacation destination. As crew of the Worldwide Voyage, we decided to sail to Waiheke Island for another interesting experience – to take part in a coastline clean up sponsored by Sustainable Coastlines New Zealand (a sister organization to Sustainable Coastlines Oʻahu). Waiheke Island, originally named Te Motu-arai-roa, ‘the long sheltering island’, is about 12 miles off the coast of Auckland – but a world apart.
Our journey to Waiheke Island began with an early morning crew call and readying Hikianalia to set sail. This was the first sail for the new crew and excitement was high. For three days, we had been cleaning, prepping and organizing logistics for our time here in Aotearoa. This crisp morning was finally the time to sail. Each leg of the Worldwide Voyage is unique because of the crew, sailing conditions, and destinations. Likewise, the focus of this crew is a little different.
Rather than braving the open oceans as the crews before us have, we are spending the month doing a series of day sails and community outreach activities – canoe tours, dockside lessons, school visits, etc. – to share the message of mālama honua and mahalo our gracious Aotearoa hosts. The Waiheke Island coastline clean up was the first of many community-based events we are honoured to be part of this month.
As part of their effort to bring attention to the growing amount of plastics and other trash in our oceans, Sustainable Coastlines New Zealand has organized hundreds of volunteers, throughout the week to walk the islands coastline and pick up trash. Participants range from individual sailors, school groups, corporate sponsors and generally concerned citizens – all looking to do what they can to mālama honua.
Following a gentle three hour sail, we anchored off the coast of Waiheke Island and were greeted by Sam Judd, the director of Sustainable Coastlines New Zealand and Kahi Pacarro from Sustainable Coastlines Oʻahu. We had not planned on seeing Kahi, or even knew he was in Aotearoa, but seeing representatives from both Sustainable Coastlines New Zealand and Oʻahu together in this place was a good reminder of how small our world really is and that our local concerns are global issues.
After all the introductions and a little talk story over lunch, we were given some “sacks” (trash bags) and work gloves and were shuttled from the canoe to a rocky, at times cliff-like, section of the Waiheke Island shoreline.
Even before we got on land, the captain of the shuttle boat pointed out an abandoned car tire and warned us that this was likely the first of many we would see. When we hit land, my fellow crewmember Ryan Hanohano went to collect the tire and deliver it to the shuttle boat. Our quest for trash had begun! Armed with our sacks and work gloves, the crew divided into pairs and eagerly set out on the hunt for trash – a hunt that would be much harder than I expected.
First, let me say that any amounts of plastics and other trash we find on our coastlines are too much. These plastics don’t ever truly go away. Besides making otherwise beautiful places look trashy, they find their way into our oceans, then into the ocean food chain and back into our bodies. That plastic cup you used today for five minutes and threw away will be on this earth longer than you will. And in time, that same plastic is likely to come back to you as part of your fish dinner. With that said, I must admit, for this beach clean up I found myself in a very odd space – I was disappointed to not find more trash!!
Crew were literally scaling mountain sides in our excitement to grab a plastic board stuck in the root of a tree, or yelled “luck!!!” when someone found a potato chip bag. We wanted so much to contribute to this mālama honua effort that we hoped to fill bags and bags with all kinds of trash. With pride, we commented to each other that if this beach clean up were at one of our home beaches, we would have collected five bags of trash rather than the five or six pieces that were in each of our bags by the end of this clean up.
This mindset carried on with us until about a mile half into our hike. It was then that we realized that this experience was great “problem” – to do a beach clean up where there is relatively little to clean up.
Rather than being frustrated that we would not return to the shuttle boat as the heroes who collected heaps of trash, this beach clean up became a moment of hope. This experience was proof that the great work that organizations like Sustainable Coastlines New Zealand are doing is paying off. We, collectively, can make a difference! As the canoes sail around the world and connect our collective efforts to support a more sustainable planet, I hope to get to take part in many more beach clean up days where there is very little to clean up.