What you can do to protect our marine environment

This page outlines some of the causes of harm to the marine environment. It has ways you can make a difference.

Our ocean environment is changing

The ocean waters around New Zealand are becoming warmer and more acidic. As they warm they have less ability to absorb greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide. They also expand as they warm which leads to sea level rise and damage to our land and marine environments.

Pollution on the land also affects our ocean waters and marine life. Litter such as plastic and chemicals are washed into stormwater drains and rivers which flow into the sea. The impact depends on the type and scale of pollution and where the pollution occurs. Some marine environments and marine life are more sensitive than others to pollution. 

What you can do to help 

Protecting our marine environment is vital for the wellbeing of the sea, the marine life it supports and us. Cleaner oceans mean we can continue to enjoy our beaches for swimming, fishing and recreation.

There’s plenty you can do, either on your own or in a group, to make a difference.

  1. Reduce your emissions.
  2. Participate in a beach clean-up
  3. Reduce your rubbish and recycle.
  4. Make sure only rain goes down the stormwater drain.
  5. Help take care of a local stream.  
  6. Make a difference at your local beach
  7. Shop for sustainable seafood.

See below for more information on these ways.

1. Reduce your emissions

The Genless website has ways you can reduce your greenhouse gas emissions from energy use. 

2. Participate in a beach clean-up

Picking up rubbish is an easy way to reduce pollution on our beaches and oceans. You may choose to join a beach clean-up. 

Check the Love your coastSustainable Coastlines and Sea Cleaners websites for groups. If there aren’t any in your area, you could start your own. 

3. Reduce your rubbish and recycle

Picture of a seal swimming.

"Sometimes rubbish looks like food
to me, but it tastes yuck and
it’s really bad for me. Some
rubbish is hard to see and
I can swim into it and get tangled."

If we reduce the amount of rubbish we make on land it is likely there will be less in the ocean.

You can reduce your rubbish by recycling paper, glass, cans and some plastics. You could also compost food scraps and find ways to reuse some of your rubbish.

Many people and organisations are helping to reduce the amount of rubbish we create. 

For instance through:

  • recycling and using recycled materials when making products 
  • reducing packaging. MfE is working with New Zealand businesses to reduce packaging of their products.

For more tips see What you can do to help reduce New Zealand’s waste.

4. Make sure only rain goes down the stormwater drain 

Picture of a seagull.

"Blah, there is rubbish all over
my pipi lunch. Hope it’s cleaner
up the coast!"

One way rubbish makes it into our oceans is through stormwater drains. These drains collect and remove the rainwater from our streets. Unfortunately anything collected by the rainwater as it travels across the road and down the gutters – like cigarette butts, oil from cars and other bits of rubbish – also goes into the stormwater drains. The drains then transport this mix of rainwater and rubbish to our streams and rivers. These streams and rivers flow out to our oceans and this is where the rubbish can end up. Less rubbish on the street means less can be washed down stormwater drains.

Children in Auckland Schools decorationed a drain. One way to reduce pollutants entering stormwater drains is to wash the car on the lawn or take it to a commercial car wash that collects and treats the car wash water.

A fun way to get the message out about stormwater drains is to do some drain decoration. A picture or a sign is placed near a drain to remind people that what goes down the drain goes into streams and the ocean. Ask your council whether you can decorate drains near you.

See more tips on reducing waste entering stormwater drains

5. Help take care of a local stream

Picture of sea anemones on the floor of the ocean.

"All this sediment can clog up us
sea anemones, making it hard
for us to breathe and eat.
It also shades the plants over
there from the sun, which they
need to survive."

If rubbish ends up in a stream or river it will very likely end up in the ocean. Sediment pollution can happen when soil enters waterways that flow to the sea. It is natural for some sediment to enter the ocean, but when there is a lot it becomes a problem. Sediment pollution can be increased by human activities such as earthworks near streams or when plants near streams have been removed.

Storm drain draining into the sea.

Taking care of streams and rivers can include picking up rubbish and/or planting trees near the stream – which is called riparian planting. Plants on the banks of streams help to hold stream and river beds together, making them stronger which stops soil from being washed away.

Getting together with a group to take care of a stream is fun. Your council may provide some plants, help you understand how to take care of a stream and even showing you how to test the stream’s health.

See Nature Space and Million Metres Streams projects to find out more or contact your local council. If there aren't any groups in your area, you can ask the council to help you set one up! 

6. Make a difference at your local beach

You can do this by picking up rubbish and making sure you take your rubbish home with you.

Our regional councils monitor the popular swimming spots in summer and let us know whether it is safe to swim there or not. They also monitor popular shellfish gathering sites and let us know if it’s safe to eat shellfish from these areas.

To check out the condition of your local beach you can visit your regional council’s website – almost all the regional council’s websites have up to date information on the popular swimming spots. Select your regional council’s website.

A tool that can help you learn about and monitor the coastal ecosystem and its condition is Marine Metre Squared [Marine Metre Squared website]. It was created with funding from the Community Environment Fund and the University of Otago. You can also ask your family and friends to get involved in reducing marine pollution.

7.  Shop for sustainable seafood.

You can find out what retail outlets stock sustainable seafood – and other food – via the CoGo app

Find out other ways to take care of your beach and coastline