Serena’s cleaning up Westhaven Marina
July 26, 2019

Serena Woodall was one of 30 young people who spent a week on the recent BLAKE Inspire for Sailors programme. The young sailors were challenged to show leadership in ocean conservation, and the programme has inspired Serena to rethink her options for next year.

Young Waiheke Island environmentalist Serena Woodall has ambitious plans to clean up the ocean – and she’s starting with Westhaven Marina.

Serena, 17, has just completed the inaugural BLAKE Inspire for Sailors programme, and she’s newly-inspired to rid the marine environment of harmful plastics.

“It was amazing how much we learnt, especially about the impact of plastics on the environment. I learnt a lot about micro-plastics – I’d never thought about or seen them before. We learnt about species and how rubbish affects them. It was eye-opening.”

Serena and 29 other participants, drawn from Northland to Dunedin, spent the first week of the July school holidays on an environmental adventure, learning about issues such as biodiversity, conservation and predator control.

The new programme is run in conjunction with Yachting New Zealand. It is tailored to Year 11 to Year 13 students, and aims to inspire young sailors to lead their communities and sailing clubs towards more sustainable futures.

Yachting New Zealand CEO David Abercrombie says his organisation has a long-term vision to help develop more young leaders and BLAKE Inspire for Sailors is helping achieve that goal.

“We want these students to go on to play an active role in their clubs and communities and foster the type of environment that grows the sport and the people around them.” says Abercrombie.

Throughout the six-day course, participants spent considerable time with experts and heroes from within the environmental and sailing communities.

“I think the biggest thing that inspired me the most was being around so many people who were so enthusiastic and passionate about the same things – the environment and sailing. ”The eager young sailors learned about the legacy of Sir Peter Blake and experienced sailing on board his legendary Lion New Zealand in the Hauraki Gulf. They visited pest-free Tiritiri Matangi Island to experience a thriving ecosystem, took part in marine science field trips with some of New Zealand’s leading scientists and marine experts and spent a day with Emirates Team New Zealand.

Each participant had to develop an action plan to address an environmental concern. Serena’s plan is to install a Seabin at Westhaven Marina, where her yacht club – the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron – is based. The Marina, on the edge of Auckland’s Central Business District, is home to around 2000 boats.

The Seabin is an Australian invention. It acts as a rubbish skimmer, extracting trash, oil, detergent and other pollutants from the water. Serena wants to install a bin close to foot traffic at the marina, and create an informative display nearby, featuring an assortment of items which have been collected from the marina. It’s likely the bin will collect bottle caps, cigarette butts, water bottles, and masses of micro-plastic.

The display will educate the public about the importance of a clean marine environment and the potential for sea bins to fight pollution.

“The Seabin could clean up the marina, and make people aware,” Serena says.

The Seabin will cost about $6000, which Serena plans to raise through corporate sponsorship. “In the Viaduct there’s two Seabins and they seem to do quite a bit of work. Having one in Westhaven, the biggest marina in the Southern Hemisphere, seems like a good idea.”

Serena was about 12 years old when she decided to wander down to her local beach and have a go at Sunday sailing. Five years later, she holds a New Zealand youth match-racing title and is planning her future around the sport.

Serena has grown up fishing and diving in the waters around Waiheke Island, but she’s the first in her family to take up sailing.

Initially she was very happy learning to sail at the small club on Waiheke, but three years ago – eager to find a larger crop of competitive sailors her own age – she joined the youth programme at the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron in Westhaven Marina. About four times a week, she takes the ferry to the mainland after school to train.

That commitment to the sport is paying off. At the end of last year, Serena was in a mixed team which won the New Zealand youth match racing nationals in Wellington. The competition was open to sailors aged up to 23; Serena was just 17.

Serena’s yacht club encouraged her to apply for the BLAKE Inspire for Sailors programme.

“The yacht club approached a few of us and I thought it looked like a really cool opportunity to learn about the environment and be around other sailors.”

The BLAKE Inspire for Sailors programme has also helped reshape Serena’s future plans.

This year Serena helped form a women’s match-racing team and that will be her focus for 2020, her first year out of school. She’s putting university on hold so she can spend as much time as she can on the water, attempting to go as far as she can in sailing.

“I’m in my last year of school. Next year I’ll do quite a bit of sailing.”

Initially, she thought she would pay her way with a hospitality job, but she’s now focused on a part-time job which will give her an opportunity to inspire others to support ocean conservation.

She has her Open Water Diver certificate, and is now planning to work towards additional certification so she can get work as a diving or snorkeling instructor next year.

“I think I might become a dive instructor to share my love of the environment and create more environmental advocates. It would be great to make environmental issues more known and everybody more aware.

“This course has inspired me to get out there and make a difference.”