Olympic champs dive into Ōkahu Bay clean up

By D'Angelo Martin

Kiwi Olympic champions Blair Tuke and Peter Burling led the charge today to clean up Ōkahu Bay in downtown Auckland.  The gold medalist sailors joined with locals, mana whenua and divers from Wellington to collect a growing amount of rubbish being dumped into Okahu Bay waterways and onto surrounding land.

The champion sailors, who won gold at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, put their diving suits on today to help out the kaupapa.

"Okahu Bay here is actually where we have done most of our sailing from over the last 10 to 15 years, so it's a very important place for us and community events like this are really important. Obviously, there are some rubbish or trash in here that shouldn't be in here," Tuke says.

Tuke has seen Ōkahu Bay's condition deteriorate over the years and says it would be great to restore the bay to how it used to be.

"It's one thing the rubbish in here, but also I think what we're going to see today is that the state of the water is not that good. There's a lot of sedimentation that makes the water really murky, water makes it super muddy and this bay is not how it was a hundred years ago," Tuke says. 

Burling added, "We're pretty proud of where we come from, which is NZ, and not just in Ōokahu Bay but, you know, as a country. And we're pretty privileged to have a pretty cool ocean. To do our part to look after it is pretty special."

Steve Armitage, a member of the organising team for the event, agreed with the two men.

"Bringing people together today and spending time focusing on unfortunately the shocking state of our waters and helping to lift them up to what they once were".

The main purpose of the event was to raise awareness about this man-made issue and to ensure that the next generation does not have to worry about it. It is the reason why people have got on board, picking up rubbish onshore and in the sea as well

"Trying to make a difference I guess and we can spread the word around our schools," one of the younger helpers at the cleanup says.

"It's real important because wildlife around here in New Zealand is pretty important and having this kind of rubbish around is really dangerous for people and animals and we just want to pick it all up."

Tuke and Burling say they hope the bay is clean and ready in time for the world sailing championship later in the year.

"We've got the world champs here and the 49er at the end of the year, so there's a big contingent from that here. But that's what's important about these events, it really brings people together," Tuke says.

After the cleanup, the bay was glimmering with hope for all the up and coming athletes who will train on the Okahu Bay waters.