Sam Judd

Sam Judd is the co-founder and chief executive of Sustainable Coastlines, the non-profit dedicated to cleaning up coasts and educating both young and old about how to care for them. So far it’s reached more than 100,000 people, removed more than a million litres of junk from beaches and planted nearly 20,000 trees.

I stayed at university for five and a half years, partly as a way to do a lot of surfing. I did two exchanges – I spent a year in Mexico, learned Spanish and caught the best waves of my life. Later on I did my final-year papers in Chile and then travelled up to the Galapagos Islands. I ended up living there for seven months on an island called San Cristobal. 

I met this hilarious Kiwi guy with a handlebar moustache who ended up staying on my couch. He was talking about going on a fishing boat to pick up rubbish – they have a programme where they take volunteers to clean up the coast. Three of us Kiwis went out there for eight days and picked up 1.6 tonnes of rubbish. It was a hilariously shitty old boat: one night the bunk I was sleeping on caved in and landed on the guy underneath. It opened up my eyes to the fact that rubbish floats for miles at sea – we found this polystyrene package that was addressed from the USA to Costa Rica. That’s a bloody long way from the Galapagos Islands.

We got back from that trip and started talking about doing it for San Cristobal. My friend James Bailey and I founded Sustainable Coastlines in our house over a shot of tequila at ten in the morning. For the next couple of months we had all sectors of society working together – divers, tourists, fishermen, the local council, schools, the tourism association. We picked up 7.5 tonnes of rubbish in half a day. James and I got an award for it from the local council – we turned up at the town hall with jandaled feet and wet shorts and walked into room of 300 people wearing suits!

When I got back to New Zealand I went harvesting kina – it’s basically commercial fishing for sea urchins. That took me out to Great Barrier Island where I saw lots of rubbish off the coast. I raised $45,000 in three weeks to run a clean-up there, which included 200 kids from low-decile schools. Some of them had never been to the beach before. Next we went to the outer islands of Tonga to do the same thing.

I ran Sustainable Coastlines for two and a half years as a volunteer before I started getting paid. We began holding corporate team-building events – that’s how we started making it pay – then we decided to build a fence on top of the cliff rather than being the ambulance at the bottom. We created an educational presentation that tells the story of what happens when plastic goes in the ocean. We got all this anecdotal evidence that it was changing kids’ behaviour, so we started monitoring it and now have a framework to measure behaviour change. We’ve got a big event that runs in Wellington every year – last time we educated nearly 9000 kids, removed 30 cubic metres of rubbish and raised $8000. 

We do a lot of work with Corrections, educating inmates and using their labour for the cause – they get qualifications for it. There are more than 8000 men sitting in prison and more than 17,500 who owe community work service. We know that if you give vocational training to a prisoner they’re 60 to 70 per cent less likely to reoffend. By educating offenders we double the output of what they can achieve in a day. That’s the area of my work that I’m most satisfied by because I see these guys go up on the scale of wellbeing when they get some educational influence. 

Words by Rebekah White. Photography by Pat Shepherd.


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