Hayden Smith

BLAKE Leader 2023 - Kaitiaki o te taiao / Environment

Hayden Smith came across a floating mass of rubbish one day more than 20 years ago, and it changed his life.

“It was a stormy day. I was kayaking up through Auckland’s Waitemata Harbour and found myself surrounded by this rubbish and I thought: why is there no-one out here cleaning this up?”

Then aged 22, Hayden thought he might be able to get a contract cleaning it, but as he knocked on doors around the city, Hayden came to realise there was a need for a clean-up of much greater proportions.
“And, I thought: this is something I could do.”

For 18 months, he continued his fight to get support for a comprehensive clean-up.

Finally, (following the Sir Peter Blake mantra of “if it isn’t hard, it isn’t worth doing”) he decided to go straight to Waitakere Mayor Sir Bob Harvey’s home – he walked up the driveway at his residence and gave him a business plan.

On the 6th of December 2002, (the first anniversary of the passing of Sir Peter Blake), the Waitemata Harbour Clean-Up Trust was established and it launched its first vessel, The Phil Warren, named by Watercare to remember the late Chair of the Auckland Regional Council.

Eventually, all councils across the region threw their support behind the Trust and it quickly grew to become a major force in reducing the scourge of litter and pollution of water-ways, harbours, and seas.

It later rebranded as the Seacleaners Trust, but Hayden has been there all along as the founding trustee. The organisation is based in Auckland, with a fleet of 10 boats around the country. – five of them in operation fulltime.

Every day, volunteers pluck rubbish out of the ocean and clean up coastlines in the Waitemata Harbour, the Hauraki Gulf, Manukau Harbour, Northland and Canterbury. The Trust is now set to expand into the Bay of Plenty, Wellington, Tasman, Marlborough, and Otago.

SeaCleaners has collected and removed over 15 million litres of waste from waterways around New Zealand, at a rate in recent years of more than 2.5 million litres of waste annually.

An initiative has also been created through landfill mining exercises so that all excess plastic is being converted to farming fence posts through Futurepost in Waiuku.

SeaCleaners has co-ordinated over 165,000 volunteer hours of support while also delivering education programmes to over 200,000 students across the country.

Advocacy in schools a big part of the Trust’s work. Hayden says he’s delighted to think the children he met in schools 20 years ago are now having children of their own and will hopefully be passing on their respect for the ocean.

“It’s all about how we can get out there and make that difference every single day.”
Hayden was nominated for the BLAKE Leader award by fellow BLAKE Leader Mark Orams. He wrote: “Hayden gets stuff done. And it’s important stuff – bringing others with him, generating the support and finances needed to expand the work – and seeing the need to educate and try to change behaviour and innovate to find different ways forward.

“In order to be able to address the scale of the problem he has needed to persuade others to join him, to raise money and awareness and to build a team committed to the cause.

“It is not easy work, the endless removal of litter and waste from our seas is relentless and can be depressing. To continue with the work requires huge determination and mental resilience, both for himself, and for those who form part of his teams.”

Hayden says leadership is about fronting up.
“It’s about participating and it’s about turning up and being present and actually putting one foot in front of the other and actually helping show the way.

“It’s about getting stuck in, getting your shoes muddy and getting into the project, first-hand, and leading by example.”