Sun, Aug 20, 2023 7:00 AM

Saving the planet one piece of ocean litter at a time


Tessa Jaine

The Rudkin family of the Marlborough Sounds are making the kind of waves our planet urgently needs.

Words: Adrienne Matthews

Amanda and Tim Rudkin have always had a natural affinity with the ocean.

Amanda sailed competitively as a teenager and they both come from a long line of sailors. Their Marlborough Sounds property has always been a much-loved family holiday destination that became like a second home after the couple married and had their children Quinn and Ava.

Amanda Rudkin with her children, Quinn and Ava, have been cleaning up the region's beaches for several years.

Over the last decade, their home base in Christchurch gradually became less palatable. “We lost our house in the earthquakes and experienced interminable battles over insurance,” says Amanda. “Then there was the Port Hills fire, the shootings and the Covid lockdowns. It made us re-evaluate our lives there and provided the impetus to make the move to the Marlborough Sounds as a chance to recover, grow and give our children a rural life experience.”

The beach below their property was a magnet for the children, then aged six and four. They were shocked at the amount of rubbish constantly coming ashore on the tide. “It was primarily their idea to take action and do something about it,” says Amanda. “Their project started small with us all collecting rubbish whenever we were at the beach. We photographed what we found and Quinn asked what we were going to do with the photographs. We decided to start posting them onto Instagram to show the scale and variety of what we call ‘ocean found plastics’.

About fifty per cent of the rubbish the family gathers comes from households, fishing gear, farming, hunting, and general recreation. The remaining fifty per cent comes from industry. Amanda is grateful for the support they have had from the marine-based industries and is pleased to see new innovations and environmental programmes in place to reduce the marine pollution in the Sounds.

“It constantly amazes me how children have such an incredible energy and ability to see the solutions. They’re not bogged down with complications and see problems clearly and simply,” says Amanda. “Not once have they said they don’t want to clean the beaches up because it is not their mess. They just get on and do it. The best thing about our experience here is the way they have been able to appreciate nature and be a part of protecting and preserving it. They get really excited by the idea that they’re helping Mother Nature.”

Ava is always enthusiastic to help at the beach.

The family called their project ‘Ocean Grid’. “By showing visually the rubbish we collect we hope that it will throw a strong light on the reality of the issues New Zealand and our global oceans are facing and inspire communities, businesses and the government to work harder on finding solutions together.”

The family are involved in citizen science projects ‘The Moana Project’ and ‘Sustainable Coastlines.’ The former uses the latest science to collect data on sea levels, ocean currents and temperatures, along with atmospheric conditions. Nelson company ZebraTech has developed an innovative sensor that attaches to boats and measures location, depth, salinity and temperature. “We have a Mangōpare Sensor on our boat and it is so exciting for the children to see how the information it gathers goes instantly to MetOcean and joins up with information collected by other sensors from all around New Zealand,” says Amanda.

“It provides world-leading science data and helps with decisions to protect our country’s marine and freshwater environments while producing food and other resources in a sustainable way.”

‘Sustainable Coastlines’ Litter Intelligence project, on the other hand, was launched in 2018 to create New Zealand’s first litter database. “There are many survey areas in the Marlborough Sounds that are boat-access only and this adds to the way we can contribute to ocean plastic knowledge and conservation,” says Amanda.

Quinn and Ava have been attending one of the country’s remotest schools at Waitaria Bay which, although just a ten-minute boat ride away, takes up a chunk of the day. “By the time we have collected the neighbour’s children and got everyone where they are supposed to be it takes an hour each way,” says Amanda.

“The children love being out in the elements in all weather and we have had many wild and wonderful experiences on the water. Quinn, who is now eight, even gets to drive the boat to school.” The ocean provides many an encounter with the creatures that live in and around it. “We love watching the Australasian gannets that dive like kamikaze bombers straight into the sea to retrieve fish,” says Amanda. “In the winter pods of dolphins will pop by, and further out in Pelorus Sounds we sometimes encounter orcas and whales. Seals sunbathe on the rocks and, due to the rising sea temperatures, there are far more stingrays than ever before which has somewhat curbed our swimming opportunities. They have their routines,” she continues. “Around 9am it’s like ray highway as they go under our jetty, out to a point at the end of the bay, around the coastline and back. In the early evenings we have eagle rays burying themselves in the warm shallows. We absolutely love the rays and feel a strong connection to them.”

A ray visiting under the jetty.

As well as the family’s ocean projects, they have also been busy establishing and maintaining a predator trapping programme. “The wildlife in the Marlborough Sounds is unique and special, sharing the close connection of land and ocean, but the rats, stoats and possums cause terrible devastation to this environment. We have set up a trapline from the top of the property to the bottom and Quinn and Ava help with clearing and resetting the traps. We love that this teaches them about caring for the land environment as well as the ocean”.

Unfortunately, the family has not been able to escape the devastation caused by the natural elements. Last August’s storm caused catastrophic damage to the roads and the Rudkin’s have a massive slip on their property with part of their dwelling yellow-stickered. “That made for an entertaining Christmas time with seventeen people in tents on the lawn,” she laughs.

Environmental projects do not stop at the ocean, the family have implemented a predator trapping programme on their Marlborough Sounds property.

The impact of successive storms has added even more destruction to the sea. “When huge swathes of clay slip into the water, it forms a sludge on the seafloor that covers the base layer of life. “We have seen the seaweeds and kelps die off, replaced by slimy brown algae along with red algal blooms.”

“Last winter we had three perfectly formed little Blue Penguins wash up dead on the beach. As the sea warms, many species of fish swim deeper into the cooler waters and the juvenile penguins don’t have the energy to dive deep for their food sources and sadly die of starvation.”

“When you live so close to nature every day you are directly confronted by the challenges our world is currently facing, but we have found comfort in doing things that have a positive impact,” says Amanda.

“We absolutely love the warm friendliness and rich diversity of the local community and every day is different. Tim has appreciated being able to continue his work in the electricity technology sector here remotely, while I have loved being a rural mum, master of logistics and being part of these environmental projects.”

“Best of all, Quinn and Ava have had a first-rate education in resilience, adaptability and flexibility. Nothing fazes them and they have had an amazing head start in understanding the importance of protecting our environment.”

“We believe children need to be immersed in nature where they gain curiosity, wonder and a love for our planet. They can then take their passion and protect what they love with impact and inspire critical change. That’s what our world so desperately needs right now,” says Amanda.

How can you help?

  • Know that any person, group, family or friends can do this hugely rewarding work.
  • Choose an area of the local environment you are passionate about, start small and just start.
  • Slow down to allow time to give to the planet.
  • Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.
  • Shop consciously – needs vs wants.
  • Connect with a local conservation group.
  • Find out about more citizen science.
  • Be conscious about your waste and where it goes.
  • Join a planting day.
  • Join a beach clean.
  • Immerse your family in nature.
  • Share and inspire with others what you are doing, the ripple effect is powerful.

More info:

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