4.3 million litres of plastic and counting - Hayden Smith's mission to clean up our waterways
He started off picking up plastic bottles in a kayak. Now, Hayden Smith has a fleet of three boats that are pulling up to 6000 litres of rubbish a day out of our waterways.
The Titirangi resident had his work recognised on February 22, taking out the Local Hero of the Year award.
"We have pulled out 4.3 million litres of rubbish in total since 2002 which is great, but there is a long way to go," Smith said.
His organisation, The Sea Cleaners Trust, put their first boat in the water 15 years ago.
They head out every morning and typically "have at least one volunteer on board everyday".
Smith said he has always had a love for the outdoors and a passion for maintaining our delicate ecosystem.
"I was working in the transport industry back in 2002 and it just wasn't really for me. My wife told me to hand in my notice and think back to when I was a child. What did I used to do for fun. She said if I could combine that fun with employment I would never really work another day in my life so that is exactly what I done."
He landed a job leading groups on kayak tours from Tamaki Dr over to Rangitoto Island.
It was there he says where he first identified "the need to clean".
"One day we had a cancellation so I just went out into the harbour by myself and it was there, under the harbour bridge, that I saw it," Smith said.
"Rubbish and plastic just streaming out of the various waterways. The ferry managers used to call it the Waiheke raft when a lot of plastic clumped together and actually formed an island almost.It was actually possible to get out and walk on top of it. I couldn't understand why nobody was out there cleaning it up so that was all the invitation I needed to get started."
With funding from the then Waitakere City Council and a retired vessel donated by the Ports of Auckland, Sea Cleaners was born and Smith began pulling rubbish out of both the Manukau and Waitemata harbours.
Today, an average haul for the team of six is roughly 18 cubic metres of rubbish a day across the three boats which is about 90 wheelbarrow loads.
Smith said it is a lot to be removing so regularly, but there are signs of improvement.
"The Waitemata in particular has improved ten-fold. We have a good working relationship with the navy as well who help us out and just driving around out there you can notice the difference."
Smith says that he was humbled to receive the Local Hero of the Year award, and hopes that it can help spread the word.
"I am honoured obviously but this is a real team effort first and foremost. There are over four million people in New Zealand, if we can get everyone to just pick up one piece of rubbish a day, that will make a huge difference."
"With the volunteers we get, it just has such a community feel to it and I am excited about where we are heading."
Sea Cleaners hope to have 10 boats operating in the near future, one in every major centre around the country.
- Western Leader