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Tracking beach litter thanks to citizen scientists

3 October 2019

New Zealanders will soon be able to tell how much litter there is on our beaches, thanks to a citizen science project, Stats NZ said today.

For the first time, the data will be included in Our marine environment 2019, to be released on 17 October 2019.

Stats NZ, along with Ministry for the Environment (MfE) and the Department of Conservation (DOC), has been working with Sustainable Coastlines on their Litter Intelligence programme.

Sustainable Coastlines uses trained volunteers to collect data about how much litter there is at dozens of beaches around New Zealand’s coast. The aim is to create the first national beach litter database, which can be used by government decision-makers to help cut rubbish. Without the citizen scientists, the information would not be collected and there would be a gap in the picture of the marine environment.

Citizen science is about public participation in scientific research.

“In the case of this beach litter project, passionate members of the public are the ones collecting the data. They're given training and direction to make sure they know the rules for collection, and how to classify the rubbish they find,” Stats NZ environmental reporting senior manager Michele Lloyd said.

The beach litter project is based on a United Nations methodology, to make sure the data collected is as accurate and reliable as possible.

"We have been happy to work with Sustainable Coastlines over the past few years on this, supporting good data management practice, and open data access," Ms Lloyd said.

Dr Sandy Britain is project manager of the Litter Intelligence programme at Sustainable Coastlines.

“Litter Intelligence is the product of a successful collaboration between MfE, DOC, Stats NZ, and Sustainable Coastlines,” Dr Britain said.

“Sustainable Coastlines aims to transform community beach clean-ups into a nationwide citizen science programme for monitoring litter on beaches around the coastlines of New Zealand.”

Ms Lloyd said that trust and confidence in the information used for environmental reporting is critical for Stats NZ.

"We have two ways of ensuring we bring quality data and insights into our reports: peer-reviewed and published scientific literature, and data that we assess and analyse ourselves. This beach litter data falls into the latter,” Ms Lloyd said.

"We're pleased to have assessed what is available, and to have approved its use for this report. In this case, it will feature as a case study.

"This is a great example of many parties working together to fill data gaps for New Zealand."

Funding for the beach litter project was provided by Ministry for the Environment through the Waste Minimisation Fund.

Our marine environment 2019 is a joint production by Stats NZ and the Ministry for the Environment.

The Government Statistician authorises all statistics and data we publish.

For more information about these statistics:
• Visit Tracking beach litter thanks to citizen scientists


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