The dirty job of cleaning up coastal waste

It’s a dirty job but someone’s got to do it should be Des Watson’s catchline for his one-man mission to clean up the country’s beaches.

Des has been getting stuck in around Raglan for the past few months and like everywhere else he’s been it’s not a pretty or easy job.

If it was gold, the plastic he’s found behind the information centre alone would have made him rich.

“Not many people go down there. If I didn’t go walking down there, I imagine that microplastic would be there for years to come.”

Des started his circumnavigation of Aotearoa collecting rubbish after receiving a small inheritance from his father’s will.

From Westport originally, he quit his job on January 1, 2019 and headed south along the coastline to Karamea in the van he kitted out with some of the inheritance money.

He estimates he collected around 15 tonnes of waste during the ten months of his South Island mission.

Like most surfies, Des has an affinity with the ocean and felt driven to do something after reading about the damage plastic waste does to marine life and witnessing it on a daily basis.

“I’ve seen a lot of rubbish in the ocean over the years and I just wanted to do something more than what I had been doing.”

Spending up to eight hours a day picking up other peoples’ trash, Des treats his mission like a fulltime job.

Relying on the generosity of friends and family and sometimes strangers for a bed, shower and meal, Des also has a Givealittle page to help fund the journey.

Once lockdown hit the donations dried up and he was forced to go on a benefit.

He hasn’t let that stop him, there’s been worse obstacles of the rubbish-kind that he’s faced on his travels, including tonnes of debris from landfill scattered down the Fox River. He spent five weeks on that job.

“The riverbed was lined with plastic, rubbish and chemical waste,” he despairs.

Sharing his experiences on his Facebook and Instagram pages Kiwis Clean Aotearoa, Des has collected trash from some of New Zealand’s most picturesque spots; from inner city to hard-to-reach beaches the rubbish is always there.

He’s on the last leg of his journey now, heading to the East Coast starting at Wairoa up to Cape Reinga.

Des says he’s grateful to the kindness of Raglan for making his mission a little lighter.

“Massive thanks to Neil from Raglan Shuttle Transfers, Taxi and Tours and Hope Phillips from Raglan Beauty for hosting me while I was in Raglan. And big thanks to Gila Cohen and Carmel Theresa who both came out to help me do some clean ups in the area.”

Janine Jackson