Coastal Litter Monitoring in Northland

The regional council has collaborated with external organisations to provide free and easy ways to help map and reduce litter in our waterways.


In the absence of research to assess plastic pollution pathways across Te Taitokerau, the regional council has developed and implemented several complementary projects in the region including:

  • Collaboration with NorthTec (Te Pūkenga), District Councils, Whitebait Connection, volunteers, and Litter Intelligence to determine volume and types of macroplastics (> 5 mm in size) from stormwater networks across six northland towns to compare against beach litter surveys.
  • Collaboration with iwi, hapū, NorthTec, volunteers, and Non-Government Organisations to determine the presence, shape, and polymer type of microplastics (< 5 mm in size) in marine and lake water, marine and lake sediments, and three species of shellfish.

How we designed the workflow of these projects

Macro litter and plastic (larger than 5 mm) Microplastic (smaller than 5 mm)

Stormwater (LittaTrapTM) survey

Beach litter surveys

Marine and lake sediments

Marine and Lake trawls


This report tracks plastic pollution from stormwater to shellfish in Te Taitokerau (Northland).

Macro to Micro, plastic pathways, deposition, and densities within Te Taitokerau (PDF 2.93 MB)

Stormwater (LittaTrap™) project

Plastic pollution poses a significant threat to oceans, harming wildlife, and coastal beauty. Collaborating with multiple organisations, NRC deployed LittaTraps™ at various sites to gauge plastic and litter inflow into rivers and estuaries. These cost-effective nets were installed in stormwater grates to intercept pollutants such as plastic.

An installed LittaTrap.

An installed LittaTrap.

Litter on a stormwater grate.

Litter on a stormwater grate.

Auditing trap contents quarterly for a year, 51 traps captured 21,006 items. NRC estimate that 13.2 million litter items enter Northland's urban stormwater drains annually, with over 70% being plastic. Capture rates varied widely among sites, from 26 to 2,409 items. This data will guide targeted efforts to reduce coastal litter and enhance preservation through education and mitigation measures.

Litter Intelligence

Led by New Zealand charity Sustainable Coastlines, the programme works in close collaboration with the Ministry for the Environment, Department of Conservation and Statistics New Zealand. The regional council has two sites in this monitoring programme, Hātea River in Whangārei Harbour, and Pah Road in Onerahi.

Learn more about Litter Intelligence, view insights, and download results

Microplastic surveys

Local iwi, hapū and NRC have partnered with the Institute of Environmental Science and Research (ESR) and Scion for a vital research initiative focused on microplastic contamination in Northland. This effort contributes to the nationwide 'Aotearoa Impacts and Mitigation of Microplastics Project’, aiming to establish baseline data on microplastic levels across various environments, shedding light on associated risks, including impacts on ecosystems and primary industries.

Microplastics found in pipi shellfish.

Microplastics found in pipi shellfish.

Microplastics found in marine trawls.

Microplastics found in marine trawls.

Microplastics, fragments under five mm originating from larger plastic items, pose severe environmental threats, infiltrating marine ecosystems via sewage, stormwater, runoff, and marine activities. Research involves sampling sand from ten northland beaches, shellfish, and water for analysis, conducted by Kaitiaki and NRC personnel.

Watch the microplastic survey video

Want to muck in and clean up?

Te Tai Tokerau Debris Monitoring Project (TTTDMP)

NRC and NorthTec have created an easy way to report and display litter along Northland’s waterways using the Marine Debris Tracker App:

  • Can be done anytime
  • App is easy to install and use (Android and Apple)
  • Can be done as an individual or as a group
  • Categories compatible to Sustainable Coastlines Citizen Science Litter Monitoring Programme

The App is free, works offline and maps litter items collected using your device’s in-built GPS. The TTTDMP litter categories are paired with the Sustainable Coastlines Citizen Science Litter Monitoring and the International UNEP/IOC Guidelines.

An example of the TTTDMP map using Marine Debris Tracker at Whangaumu Bay.

An example of the TTTDMP map using Marine Debris Tracker at Whangaumu Bay.

Want to learn more and start tracking?

Visit the Marine Debris Tracker website to find out how to start tracking

If you are submitting data publicly using this project, please copy (cc) your data to: [email protected] 

Monthly (Whangārei) Clean-ups

For Our Real Clean Environment (F.O.R.C.E) run the ‘Love Whangārei Monthly Clean Ups’ at different locations around Whangārei and work towards more waste minimization projects.

You can check them out at:

Sea Cleaners

Sea Cleaners remove rubbish from the sea, harbours and oceans. To get involved, go to:

Ocean Plastic Simulator

The Ocean Plastic Simulator is an interactive online tool that shows how plastic waste moves around New Zealand’s coastline. It uses regional models of tides, winds and currents to predict how plastic moves and where it will end up.

Visit the Ocean Plastic Simulator to see where our plastic's going

Guidelines and reports

The international guidelines and the council's report on the litter monitoring trial are available below:

General Enquiries

  • Stay connected: 0800 002 004 | Call us toll-free on between 8am and 4:30pm, Monday to Friday
  • NRC Incident Hotline: 0800 504 639 | Report pollution or marine incidents toll free on our 24/7 Incident Hotline.