Te Kawa Robb is a triathlete with a twin passion for the sport he does and the country he represents. In early 2010, Te Kawa gave up full-time work to pursue his sporting dreams while also studying Exercise Science full-time at University. Te Kawa became involved with Sustainable Coastlines because of his passion for the environment and his close affinity to the land and the sea, which is a bi-product of his Maori heritage and his childhood spent as close to rivers, lakes and beaches as possible. He now acts as an official ambassador for Sustainable Coastlines, working alongside them to spread local awareness about the need to use our natural resources more sustainably.
How does being a triathlete affect how you perceive the land?
My personal sporting goals are pretty simple in the sense that I get a kick out of playing sport and pushing my body and mind and achieving and exceeding my goals. I love being out on the ocean and in the bush and forests so to combine a sport with outdoors activities was a natural progression for me. However, in addition to my own sporting goals, I am a coach and mentor, particularly amongst Maori people so having an appreciation of the land and waterways is important because we couldn't compete or enjoy our sport as much if they were dirty and polluted; a concept that is easily understood by the people I coach and mentor.
Describe your relationship with the land?
As kids, my two younger sisters and I were always encouraged to get outside and enjoy the land around us. We grew up in two houses that were both by the sea, so the ocean played a big part in our lives. For holidays, we would either go somewhere that had a beach, a lake or a river. As kids, a big part of our interest in the waterways and land were the creatures and animals that inhabited them. My youngest sister is now a Vet nurse and the middle sister is a biologist, specialising in fresh water ecology. My parents both grew up in cities but both had parents that instilled in them the same values and respect of the land and waterways as they did for us.
My mother is Maori, and my father has a strong interest in Maori culture so we were also brought up with a strong connection to the land through our Maori heritage, our understanding and learning of traditional practices and beliefs and applying them to our lives. To this day, we all still practice a long practiced Maori tradition that was taught to us by our father: we always put back the first fish or animal caught from the ocean. It is a simple act but one that has helped to sustain ancient fishing grounds for many years. He also viewed it as an act of respect to Tangaroa, the god of the sea. I distinctly remember one day when my father caught the biggest snapper he'd ever seen but it was the first fish and we could all see how gutted he was to have to put it back but he did.
Tell us about being an ambassador for Sustainable Coastlines.
The Ambassador Role is a work in progress and the team at Sustainable Coastlines and I are still refining the finer details of it but essentially, I represent Sustainable Coastlines locally (Wellington-based) and assist with the local cleanup and education events throughout the year. As an athlete in a sport that utilises our waterways and land, I encourage my peers and friends to keep the area tidy and to not litter and use the Sustainable Coastlines cleanup bags I take with me to dispose of any litter they come across, particularly around the waterways. There is a huge scope and potential with what I can do as an athlete ambassador and we're working closely with what resources and assistance we can utilise from each other to better showcase the great work that Sustainable Coastlines do.
What is the ethos of Sustainable Coastlines?
Sustainable Coastlines, its founders and members all have a very strong and united ethos. There couldn't be a more important time for us to not just be aware of the state of our oceans and waterways but also actively do something about it. There are obviously vested interests in ensuring that our coastlines and waterways remain unpolluted, respected and valued but what Sustainable Coastlines is doing is also very selfless. We might not be here to see the benefits of the work Sustainable Coastlines are doing and values they are instilling in our kids and the community but its our grand kids who will hopefully see the oceans and waterways in a better state than they are now.
What have you found when you were doing the cleanups?
For me, it's all the typical stuff that you expect to see when you do a cleanup. I was very surprised by the quantities of some of the things though; the sheer number of cigarette butts and polystyrene balls was shocking. I don't know many smokers but apparently there’re plenty of them out there! A family friend is a DoC worker and she spent some time working on Raoul Island a few years ago; the things that she used to pick up off the beach was crazy. I think she collected over a thousand jandals in the year she was there and DoC had to make a special trip to take them away.
What can Kiwis do better to help our coastlines?
It's just the simple things really, not littering, even if you don't live near the beach is a great start - you'd be surprised at how far litter travels. Being more conscious about the waste you're creating through consumable by-products is the next step e.g. opting for re-usable shopping bags over plastic bags. Taking the time to pick up and dispose of litter that you find at the beach and getting involved with your local ‘Love Your Coast’ cleanup event. Details on www.sustainablecoastlines.org.
What does volunteering mean to you?
Volunteering means a lot to me. It's my way of helping the community for a common good while also helping to further establish that sense of community that parts of society has lost touch with. We've never lived closer to each other, but we couldn't be more disconnected with our community and society than we are now.