Being a Beach Cleaning Volunteer with Tangaroa Blue

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I’d love to get a long-term volunteer position while we are traveling, but, it’s hard to get into. it’s often a voluntourism scam and it is expensive for the volunteer. For me, I don’t think it’s ever going to happen. Somebody else, with fewer family commitments and more cash will have the privilege of taking care of orphaned orangutans and elephants. But it is possible to find less glamorous ways of putting something back. Our way was to become beach cleaning volunteers with Tangaroa Blue in Australia.

We’d regularly spend a day collecting trash and plastics on beaches in the Cairns and Port Douglas region and it was always an eye-opener to see how much trash ends up on pristine, deserted beaches and islands in such a sparsely populated area in the Great Barrier Reef marine park. Very little is dumped there, but some is. Most of the plastics are washed up or arrive from our rivers in wet season rains. All of it needs picking up and all of us, every person in the world, should help.

Obviously, our job starts with not buying plastics, that goes for individuals and store owners too. The plastics have to stop. In our quest to be more eco friendly travellers, we continue to work with this organisation to this day. Here’s how it looks, these little boys are grown now and our plastic problem is nowhere near fixed, but at least more people are aware and we’ve seen change all over the world.

Tangaroa Blue Beach Cleaning Volunteer Great Barrier Reef
Beach clean up at Snapper Island. Thank you boaties for dumping all your rubbish! They left chairs, a table, an old eskie and all their trash on a deserted island.

Being a Beach Cleaning Volunteer with Tangaroa Blue

We were in Australia at that time, there we tried to do our bit by collecting junk from the beaches. Families can volunteer, children are welcome and they can really get involved. Kids are the right size to go scurrying into bushes to collect plastic bottles.  It’s like a treasure hunt for them, loads of fun and a lovely picnic lunch in a beautiful new place.

If you are traveling anywhere in Australia it’s something you could get involved in too, just check out the Tangaroa Blue website for the list of upcoming clean ups,  send an email and turn up on the day wearing sun protective gear and a smile.

Beach cleaning volunteer Marine debris, Cape Tribulation Australia
That’s me, sorting some of the smaller marine debris washed up on a secluded beach at Cape Tribulation. Sometimes this work is too dangerous for kids but they can help a lot with finding plastics along the beach.

Beach Clean Up Video From Cape York

This post originally came into existence almost 10 years ago, my boys were tiny tots. Now they are teens and the plastic problem is, if anything, worse. At least we are better placed to help now. Two of us recently spent 8 days cleaning beaches on Cape York, the team shifted 1.7 tonnes. We made this little video, see how untouched this area is, nobody goes there. But 1.7 tonnes of trash came off this beach.



Tangaroa Blue

Named after Tangaroa, the god of the ocean in Maori and Polynesian mythology, the Tangaroa Blue organization tries to look after the health of our oceans, minimizing marine debris and raising awareness of its negative impact on wildlife.

Groups of volunteers get together to blitz a given location on a given day. The organizers supply the equipment, gloves, bags and sharps boxes. They often provide transport too. Last time volunteers went by boat to beautiful, deserted Snapper Island, a place that we would never have been able to see otherwise. The whole beach is made of coral and shells, dolphins were feeding just offshore. What a shame previous picnickers had left all of their rubbish there.

It’s an awesome team effort and one that results in hundreds of Kgs of marine debris being collected, sorted, categorized and properly disposed of, every time. On our first beach clean up, on Snapper Island, 35 volunteers collected  235 Kg of junk. Finds included a car battery, a fridge, 115 thongs and endless small pieces of plastic and foam.

It’s not just about collecting, it’s about identifying sources and trying to intervene to decrease further contamination. We often pick up balloons, including weather balloons from the Cairns Bureau of Meteorology. I think conversations are being had about this practice.

Beach Cleaning Volunteer near Cairns Port Douglas Great Barrier Reef Snapper Island
Boo finds the first bit of junk of the day on Snapper Island. An unwanted chair. Why would they dump their rubbish here? We watched dolphins playing along the beach and found huge pristine shells as our trash pile grew.

Getting Children Involved In Volunteering to Clean Beaches

We lived on the doorstep of the Great Barrier Reef marine park. We’ve taken the children to the reef many times to see exactly what it is we’re trying to protect, it’s an incredible and fragile ecosystem.

We brought the kids up homeschooled, sometimes called world schooling as a huge amount of travel and real-world experience was involved. We were always on the lookout for interesting ways to educate the kids, so these days out were not truly altruistic. Things rarely are. From pre-school to now, young adults, the kids have learned so much about science and our world through working with Tangaroa Blue.

Our beach cleanups had an amazing impact on the children. They never walk past a piece of plastic or a cigarette butt on a beach, we always had to pick it up. They are aware that any plastic on the street could be washed into storm drains and head directly to the sea, we picked that up too.

They understood the threat to turtles and other marine animals from marine debris, and we would talked about how whole food chains and ecosystems could be affected in a catastrophic way. They cared and truly wanted to help.

They saw from an early age that if a thing needed doing, they could be the ones to do it.

They met and talked to a good cross-section of people, from passing backpackers to senior citizens. People were always delighted to see the kids getting involved. ( What people like to think of as socialisation, in educational terms.)

They see their parents and other adults giving their time freely. It’s a good behavior to model.

We also ticked educational boxes. In homeschooling we report on what progress the children are making. Curriculum areas on the environment and how it changes through interaction with people are clearly covered, plus large chunks of science, geography and maths. We sort, count, measure and weigh everything. That sounds like maths to me!

Catching them young like this, I hoped, would make them aware of their obligations to the environment for the rest of their lives, before they become jaded and decided it was up to somebody else to do something about it. I hoped to make more responsible global citizens.

Tangaroa Blue
Tangaroa Blue is part of the Australian Marine Debris Initiative.

If you are interested in marine conservation you may like to head over to Green Global Travel and read an excellent interview with Jean-Michel Cousteau, son of one of my heroes, Jacques Cousteau. He’s 71 now,  still working hard, trying to make sure our oceans have a future.

 I look into the eyes of a 7- year-old and ask, “Am I going to let you down?” No, never!

Jean-Michel Cousteau

Please save to Pinterest, spread the word!

Volunteering cleaning beaches Australia Tangaroa Blue

What do you think? Could you help out humanity as you travel or as part of your normal family life?  Check out the Tangaroa Blue website to get involved with beach clean up volunteering. This is a legitimate way to volunteer as you travel and not a voluntourism scam, a valuable part of any world schooling education. Ours has continued through 50 or so countries, but there’s no reason you can’t start local. You know, if kids weren’t confined to classrooms they could be out there helping. I often wonder why they’re not.

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About the author
Alyson Long
Alyson Long is a British medical scientist who jumped ship to chase dreams. A former Chief Biomedical Scientist at London's West Middlesex Hospital she started in website creation and travel writing in 2011. Alyson is a full-time blogger and travel writer, a published author, and owns several websites. World Travel Family is the biggest. A lifetime of wanderlust and over 6 years of full-time travel, plus a separate 12 month gap year, has given Alyson and the family some travel expert smarts to share with you on this world travel site. Today Alyson still travels extensively to update this site and continue her mission to visit every country, but she's often at home on her farm in Australia.

22 thoughts on “Being a Beach Cleaning Volunteer with Tangaroa Blue”

  1. Good to see that you offer people to come and join your team in cleaning the beach. It is good for us too because polythene bags are harmful to our society and more importantly it cause of water main stop or occur of drainage issue in the cities.

  2. I had no idea that you could do this in Australia. What a great program, and a great way to give back to this incredible country. It’s such a shame that it’s a service that’s needed because of the inconsiderate folks that dump trash.

  3. I would love to hear more how not to fall victim to voluntourism as you put it. I would be interested in volunteering abroad but you worry about the expenses and how much value things are to the local economy

  4. love how you turned this into a fun kids activity – just the right size to send them scurrying into the bushes! 🙂 Not everyone can work out those ideal volunteering opportunities, but the smaller tasks like this are equally important and have an impact. Good for you guys!

  5. This is an amazing way to give back! I love that you have your kids involved as well. It’s insane to think about how much plastic and trash are floating around out there, just waiting to ruin great destinations or harm wildlife. Thanks for being part of the solution.

  6. It makes me very sad to see the kind of trash people throw into the water, and I am sure it adversely affects the fish too. So glad to see they’re awesome people like you who volunteer to clean the beaches, it is truly inspiring and I admire you for it.

  7. You have to be careful about the volunteer programs and do a lot of research before signing up for them because quite a few can be scams. But beach cleaning is a great way to give back! We live near a regional park in New Zealand and we help out on clean-up days. But we don’t find anything too big. I can’t believe you found an entire chair.

  8. Such a good idea although very sad that it’s necessary at all. I am staggered that people can be mindless enough to leave rubbish behind not only on our beaches but in the countryside too.

  9. Volunteer work is always great! The website of Tangaroa Blue is pretty cool! Personally I’m in a wheelchair but still I do some social volunteer work. Our environment, especially the beaches as well as the marine wildlife have to be consequently protected. It’s so sad to see the amounts of plastic polluting the ocean. People should be more aware of how they are polluting the earth. It’s great to see that there are organisations like Tangaroa Blue to make a difference!

  10. A fridge? Good lord. Although I have just realised that you mean flip flops not a type of underwear when you say thongs, which makes much more sense. More seriously, what an excellent project to have got involved with. I think you chose well with our volunteering.

  11. I really enjoyed reading this post. We travel often with our two kids and while we don’t worldschool as such, we always look for learning opportunities and would love to find volunteering we can do with them. This seems the perfect opportunity in terms of time and type of work and how interesting about the weather balloon, I can imagine the conversations about it! I will check for similar opportunities near us

  12. Its not all boaties/yachties, maybe the boaties on day trips. The yachties who live aboard for the whole or part of the year would not be throwing in-organic items overboard. Mind you sometimes they blow overboard. The vast majority of the litter on the East Coast beaches of Australia would come from further away or from some other source. see
    Great ideas with your homeschooling.

  13. This is a great post. We’ve just been commenting on public vs private beaches and the amount of rubbish some people throw around came up as one of the arguments in favour of privatisation. Of course, ideally we should all be looking after all our beaches – whether we own them exclusively or not!

    Thanks for the link to Australian beach cleanup efforts (there is a beach cleanup in Singapore in a couple of weeks, too). And of course it’s also something you can do without any official organisation.

  14. I really enjoyed reading this post. Not happy about pollution — but that video alone was enought to make me change a few things about our lifestyle. Thx!

    • Actually — the post I was referencing was the one just posted about eco tourism in Brazil –that links back to this one. THAT is where I saw the video on water bottles. Great info. I am continuing to enjoying your blog.

    • Glad that video was new to someone Suzi, those Story of Stuff videos have been around for a while, they’re pretty powerful. There are more online if you give them a Google. That post should have stood alone, I feel bad about sticking a guest post on the end. We need the money!

  15. I love how you are doinig this with your children Alyson. What an amazing education they are getting and contribution they are doing.

    I’m horrified by the amount of rubbish washed up to shore in these photos. Thank you for looking after our beautiful country

  16. I think it’s great that you are volunteering and cleaning up the beach. I am thouroughly annoyed at the cost of volunteering though. We are here in France and we would love to volunteer but can’t afford to pay the thousands of dollars to do it. Plus we have one little one who is 5 so it makes it a bit harder.
    I even tried to donate time to teach english at the schools and community center but NON i can’t do that either. Sheesh. I digress…
    I hope those boaties clearn up after themselves…

    • Thanks so much for reading Annie. I read a lovely article the other day from a lady that set up her own voluntary position in Nepal, teaching English in a local school, she was welcomed with open arms. Maybe that’s the sort of thing we need to do.

    • We don’t pay anything for these cleaning trips Annie. Not even the week-long ones the boys go on now, to very remote locations. If it’s genuine, you won’t have to pay. Most voluntourism is a scam.


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