Tracking Litter to Bring About Change

26 September 2019

Tracking Litter to Bring About Change

Image: NorthTec’s Dr Manue Martinez (left), and NRC’s Nick Bamford check out the Marine Debris Tracker app.

NorthTec Environmental Management tutor, Dr Manue Martinez, is working on a new research project alongside the Northland Regional Council (NRC) to track where and how much rubbish is being found and picked up all over Northland.

“When I get the chance to travel around New Zealand and overseas, I see plastic everywhere in our environment. It is so heartbreaking. I know what this does to the wildlife – you see plastic ending up in the stomachs of wildlife, as well as in marine ecosystems. We know plastic pollution is an issue in New Zealand– but we don’t know the extent of the issue. There are many environmental groups and organisations picking up litter around the country, some even measure how much they collect.  I thought it would be a good idea to track and centralise some of that data – starting in Northland,” says Manue.

Nick Bamford, Environmental Monitoring Officer at the Northland Regional Council who completed a Bachelor of Applied Science through NorthTec in 2013, has teamed up with Manue to undergo this research project, called the Te Tai Tokerau Debris Monitoring Project or TTTDMP.

The TTTDMP utilises the freely-available mobile app Marine Debris Tracker to track the location as well as how much and what type of rubbish gets picked up. Nick says this is an easy way for anyone to collect data and map it, as the main aim of this project is to enable citizen scientists. “Anyone who has access to a smartphone can download this app and track the litter that they pick up. The data is shared with us and is available for anyone to access and see on our website. We encourage people to look at the data and for organisations and councils to use it to analyse and assess the situation in Northland. It is important to me that we find ways to reduce the litter that ends up in the coastline and water ways.”

To date, the TTTDMP has conducted 96 surveys across 44 sites. The sites surveyed included Pataua South, Ocean Beach, Smugglers Bay, Langs Beach, and a few sites along the harbour. They collected over 7,000 items with the amount increasing over time.

“Around 70% of the debris picked up is plastic,” says Manue, “It is crucial that we collect as much data as we can so we can help to educate people about their behaviour, as well as analyse the results to prevent the negative effects on our marine and coastal ecosystems, wildlife and our health. The more data we have, the more accurate the results that we can then pass on to the Whangārei District Council, the Northland Regional Council, and ultimately to the New Zealand Government.”

A Google Form on the TTTDMP website has recently been developed to allow those who are unable to download and use the app due to access issues to still share data with TTTDMP.


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