The natural beauty of New Zealand is not up for debate. Anyone who has ever been there will readily convey the stunning qualities of the rolling green hills, crystal blue water, majestic mountains, and native wildlife.
New Zealand was the location of a four-week summer trip for Olivia Kascak, a senior Interior Design major at the University of Bridgeport. The program was organized by the dedicated and passionate staff and volunteers at Sustainable Coastlines. The non-profit organization plans trips to care for the coastlines of both New Zealand and Hawaii.
The month-long summer project in New Zealand opened up Kascak’s eyes to the degree of sustainable issues on a global scale. “Even though New Zealand is a country that values living green, I found out that it still has sustainability issues,” she said.
Kascak and seven other volunteers from France, China, England and the U.S. spent their time cleaning up beaches and planting trees to improve sediment erosion.
In addition to serving as the UB Green club president last year as well as the current school year, she is also the president of UB’s chapter of the American Society of Interior Designers. Since her freshman year, the future interior designer has participated in alternative spring break service projects throughout the U.S.
In the fall of 2018, Kascak started the UB Green Club, which doubled during the course of one year. Learn more about the UB Green Club on KnightLife.
To learn firsthand about Kascak’s New Zealand adventure in both words and images, please read her photo journal entries below.
Olivia Kascak’s Volunteer Experience in New Zealand with Sustainable Coastlines
Week 1: July 1-6
The first day the other volunteers and I were treated to a sit-down breakfast along with Sustainable Coastlines volunteer coordinator; Natalia Groome. From there we made our way to the organization’s flagship where we were introduced to other staff members and the layout of the Water Conservation program of which we would be participating in during the upcoming weeks.
The next morning, we were shown the bus route to get us to the Māori Marie at Bastion Point where we would spend much of our time volunteering in the nursery. The Māori are the indigenous people of New Zealand. It was quite a privilege to be welcomed onto their land and gain ancient knowledge through working side by side with the people of the Ngāti Whātua tribe. Our work helped the tribe to continually work toward their mission of organically restoring native plants and revitalizing local birdlife in the Auckland area.
On Thursday, we traveled north to work at Matuku Link, a reserve that aims to connect previously protected natural areas together. Despite the heavy rainfall, we were able to pot plants and plant trees while learning about local wildlife and sharing loads of laughter.
To close off our working week, we participated in one of Sustainable Coastline’s frequent tree plantings. This specific planting took place in Waikato where local school students along with volunteers and sponsors from ANZ planted 5,000 trees. Members of Sustainable Coastline staff stayed the night to host a public planting the next day. They also planted 5,000 trees, which is 10,000 trees in two days!
After a good week’s work, the other volunteers and I traveled to Waiheke Island where we enjoyed the gorgeous scenery through hikes and ziplining.
Week 2: July 7-13
Week 2 consisted mainly of nursery days. We also did a beach clean-up and audited the trash collected from a previous clean up done by local volunteers. During the audit, I learned that cigarette butts contain plastic and therefore do not fully decompose. The number of cigarette butts found blew my mind!
Saturday brought about a public tree planting day that we were more than happy to participate in. It was great to meet members of the local community and share in their love for the environment and the beauty that is New Zealand. We were thanked with the following Monday off.
To take full advantage of our days off, we planned a road trip to the Coromandel, an area filled with endless sights of awe and beauty. The weekend was filled with sunrise-to-sunset days, dips in the Pacific, and world-renowned beaches all to ourselves (pros of traveling during a country’s offseason).
Week 3: July 14-20
Week 3 was filled with goodbyes and hellos. It was Bella’s (one of the volunteers) last week and we were also being joined by 5 new volunteers. We worked a few days in the nursery and revisited Matuku Link on Wednesday. After spending the majority of the day planting trees, we stopped at Bethel's Beach to take in the scenery and run down giant sand dunes. It blew my mind just how diverse the many landscapes of New Zealand are.
On Thursday, we ran another beach clean-up and audited the trash the following day. Our findings consisted of 114 cigarettes, 244 pieces of soft plastic, 83 pieces of paper, 11 pieces of metal, 5 cans, 22 pieces of polystyrene, 96 metal bottle caps, 7 can tabs, 3 glass bottles, 3 plastic bottles, and 153 pieces of unknown plastic items.
The weekend was dedicated to adventures; night kayaking to see glow worms and revisiting Waiheke to celebrate a fellow volunteer’s birthday.
Week 4: July 21-27
Starting the last week with my last day at the nursery was a hard goodbye. Spending a few days a week there and getting so close with the staff truly made it feel like a second home. I got to leave my mark by tracing my hand on the volunteer board and signing my name. The beauty of the land and the hospitality of the Ngāti Whātua are memories I will always cherish.
We participated in one last beach clean-up, which turned out to be the most impactful one yet. We traveled to Rangitoto Island, an uninhabited location which seems to be pristine at first glance. My thought was quickly proven wrong. Along with loads of other rubbish, we managed to collect 2,826 pieces of microplastics, many of which are nurdles, or tiny balls of plastic extremely harmful to our oceans. Of course, we couldn’t leave the island without fully taking in its beauty, so we finished the day off with a hike to the top of the summit.
We finished the week off with a tree planting set to the beautiful backdrop of The Tawharanui Open Sanctuary, where we gained loads of knowledge on the conservation of local bird life.
I can’t thank Sustainable Coastlines enough for the great work they do for our environment, their amazing staff, and for helping me create four weeks’ worth of memories that will last a lifetime.