Community groups combine to fund teen’s environmental proje

Charlie Thomas at work with Sea Cleaners.

Helping Charlie with her environmental mission was a joint effort for local Lions and Rotary groups. From left, Rotary satellite Orewa-Millwater’s Brian Mullen, Karen Bonnici of Rotary Orewa, Laurie Rands of Orewa Lions, recipient Charlie Thomas, Rotary Whangaparaoa’s Ian Hacking and Sandy McInnes of Rotary Orewa.


Red Beach teenager Charlie Thomas is about to embark on an eight-month challenge that involves clearing a remote Hawaiian atoll of mountains of rubbish and invasive weeds.

While doing this voluntary work, the 18-year-old and a small team will live in a cabin with no power, internet or fresh food available.

The isolated atoll, called Kure, is covered in rubbish because it’s located under the North Pacific Gyre.

Charlie found out last December that she was one of only six successful applicants for the field team, and she leaves on February 9, so there was only a short time to find money to cover flights and other expenses.

Her request for help from Orewa Lions so impressed Lion Laurie Rands that she wanted to provide more than the $500 that her organisation could give.

Laurie got in touch with three local Rotary groups, who all agreed to help. In total, Rotary Whangaparaoa, Rotary Orewa, Rotary Orewa-Millwater satellite and Orewa Lions were able to provide $1900.

“I was blown away when I met Charlie,” Laurie says. “Being able to help an amazing young person like her, thanks to all the groups involved, has been so satisfying.”

Charlie worked full time for Sea Cleaners last year, removing rubbish from the ocean, and visited Hawaii as a youth ambassador for the organisation, falling in love with its wildlife.

She claims to be excited at the prospect of eight months without a cellphone and also at the chance to get up close to the seabirds that inhabit the atoll. A keen artist, she is taking a huge stack of paper and plans to sketch the wildlife. She will also video her experience, so she can talk to local schools on her return about plastic pollution – as well as the impact of life in an isolated place without social media.

“Going to Kure will give me the opportunity to be part of a programme dedicated to protecting the environment and habitat of all the animals I care so much about, not to mention the life skills I’ll gain from living off the grid with a bunch of likeminded and equally passionate people,” she says. “This is going to be a life-changing experience.”


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