For those readers out there that are meeting you for the first time would you kindly introduce yourself?

Sure! My name is Daniella, I am an Environmentalist and Natural Health Enthusiast from South Africa living abroad on the South Coast of Wellington, New Zealand where I work as a Social Media and Marketing Assistant for The Formary. I’m a lover of animals, real food, nature, gardening and the little things in life. You can find me @earth_child_09_ or @theformary

You recently had some interesting happenings at your place. Care to share the story of your surprising houseguests?

My partner and I had been hearing a very strange sound coming from the beach each night, almost like the sound a dogs-toy makes when its squeezed real tight. Sometimes it would even wake us up in the middle of the night. We heard it for months and every night we’d have a “WTF is it” moment!

Finally, after my partner and I were getting a bit concerned of the creatures on the beach, he made a breakthrough after spending some time on Youtube. It’s the sound of Little Blue Penguins!! A quick google search revealed that they’re nocturnal and the world’s smallest penguins, but their numbers are on the decline mostly due to human activity. We were ecstatic at the chance to see them in the wild and each night we sat on the deck to get a glimpse of them. After a few weeks, the sounds became louder until eventually it was so loud it was obvious they were on our property. We grabbed our torches and followed the sound in the back yard one evening until we finally saw them! Two little blue shimmers right under the deck about the size of a Chihuahua (I would know I have two).

Over the next few months we became aware that the pair had moved in and we named them Poly and Ester!

 

They picked a spot behind the house, under the deck, and so we fenced off the area with a pallet, just enough for them to move freely but also so my dogs don’t disturb them.

One morning, after Poly and Ester had been staying with us for about three months, I went outside and heard a rustling of plastic bags coming from their nest area! I called my partner, we moved the pallet, and to our dismay we saw one of the penguins stuck in a plastic bag and it was wrapped around his neck! We climbed into their nest area and I slowly pulled at the bag. Poly was not happy and nipped me a few times but after a struggle I managed to set him free.

They started to make their ‘dog-toy’ screams letting us know they felt threated so we quickly scouted the area. That’s when I noticed a large pile of plastic rubbish where their nest was! They were collecting it from the beach. I quickly gathered it all up and removed it from the area. We later inspected the items in the pile and had found; plastic bags, take-away coffee cups and lids, a paper plate, a paper towel roll, a plastic gardening pot and a lot of small pieces of unidentifiable plastic.

 

What actions did you take when you wanted to find our more about Poly and Ester’s high tech nesting habits?

I quickly took to Google to see what I could do and who I could contact. I knew that Poly and Ester had been collecting the rubbish for quite some time given the size of the pile and I knew they would try gather more. I wanted to provide them with what they needed so they didn’t feel the need to collect the plastic. The beach and local area obviously also needed cleaning up so I was also thinking to organise and gather the community for a beach clean-up. Having been in New Zealand less than a year at the time I had no idea who to call.

After a while searching online I called The Department of Conservation (Doc). The first time I called a gentleman suggested I call another office, so I did. The second time I called a lady said they would call me back (I’m still waiting). So, I then called a local Marine Education Centre, they were only open on the weekends! I also called a local University but the lady was very confused by my questions- another dead end. So, I called the Wellington Zoo where the receptionist asked me to email them instead to direct the email to a penguin specialist.

By this time, it was already late afternoon and I was feeling annoyed by the lack of help I received that day but I reluctantly sent an email. A few hours later I received a response from a specialist to provide Poly and Ester with dried leaf litter, grass and/or flax. The lady also informed me of the “South Coast Beach Clean-up” an annual beach clean-up event happening two weeks later. I quickly started gathering dry leaf material from the yard, placing it just outside their burrow.

 

 

How did you step up and create positive change for the penguins, the environment, and engage with the local community?

I posted on a local Facebook page about the ordeal and started promoting the South Coast Clean-up event and received a lot support from the beach communities in Wellington. A local reporter picked up on my story and contacted me for an interview. I scheduled it on the day of the clean-up event and in the time leading up to it I told everyone I encountered about our Poly and Ester and their plastic mishap. I meet a lot of interesting people at work and my boss always encourages me to tell the story. Not everyone was so supportive though. I recall one evening I met an Ecologist who worked for Doc and I was excited to tell her my story. But as soon as the words “I have penguins living behind my house” came out my mouth she immediately said “HA! Good luck! They’ll keep you up all night and they stink! Such pests!” I was flabbergasted to say the least. And she wasn’t the only one who saw Little Blue Penguins as a nuisance. I didn’t care, Poly and Ester chose me and I would protect them no matter how much they stink!

When the day of the interview finally arrived, I had woken up with a bad flu and I was feeling quite stressed out. But the reporter was calm and made us feel comfortable enough. We showed him the rubbish we had collected from the nest and gave him a brief tour of the area. After the interview my partner and I attended the clean-up for a good few hours where we filled a large bio-degradable bag of all sorts of rubbish including three leather belts and a lot of fishing wire. It was great to see the community bind together for a common goal.

The interview appeared in the newspaper two weeks later and we were feeling optimistic about having created some awareness around the plight of single-use plastics. There was already a buzz centred around the issue of banning plastic bags in New Zealand and we hoped the story would add to the pressure. By this time, Poly and Ester had gathered two more small piles of rubbish, which we removed, and they had also quietened down to such an extent we thought they may have left! Until one night the most amazing thing happened…

We had just come home from a night out at the cinema and took the dogs outside before bed when we heard loud chirping sounds coming from the nest area. Poly and Ester had chicks!! We couldn’t believe our ears and in the hopes of seeing them we decided to camp out in the garage that evening (the penguins were just outside the garage and we had a large glass backdoor and windows to look through). We didn’t see the chicks but we did see Poly. He left the area at around 10:30pm and we watched how he squeezed through the perimeter fence, scurried across the road and dove into the coastal vegetation moments before a car sped past! The fear of one of them being hit by a car became very real and I started to do some more homework. Other coastal areas in Wellington had speed bumps and signage warning drivers of crossing penguins. So, I decided it was time to request the same.

This time I called a lady from Forest and Bird, a not-for-profit organisation, whose number I received from the reporter those few weeks prior. The lady was very sweet and agreed to meet with me that same day and check out Poly and Ester’s nest area and their new chicks. When she arrived, I told her my concerns of the busy road and that I wanted to request signage and speed bumps. “I’ll call my contacts at the Wellington City Council”, she replied. “Leave it to me”. I also mentioned that I wanted to print some flyers and tell the neighbourhood the news and ask that they drive slowly around the coast. She said that Forest and Bird would be happy to pay for the flyers. I was finally receiving some real support! The lady called me back the next day and told me that she had put in a request for signage and that the speed bump request would be a very lengthy process but we might be able to do it before the next breeding season (Little Blue Penguins nest at the same site each year). I took to Facebook again telling everyone about the chicks and signage news and urged people to drive slowly around the coastal areas. Then the lady and I worked on the flyer and I distributed it around the local area. The community was so supportive one couple even volunteered their time and made a temporary sign warning drivers to slow down.

What tips would you have for people who wanted to take steps to protect oceanic fauna?

I would encourage people to get involved in a local organisation or volunteer group, it is so helpful to be surrounded by like-minded people who are supportive and share your values. If you’re a bit of a hermit like me and prefer to do your own thing then perhaps make a little routine or project of your own. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy, for example; my partner and I pick up rubbish on the beach when we walk our dogs each day, small acts really do make a difference. If you encounter oceanic fauna, an important tip to remember is to protect them with the least amount of interference as possible because if they feel too threatened they could flee the area and potentially leave chicks behind or you may disrupt breeding/nesting or other activity. And get researching! Find out more about your local oceanic fauna, their behaviour, and who to call if you run into a problem. This way you can also educate and encourage others, awareness helps heaps!

When you aren’t being a penguin saving super-hero you have a very sustainably stylish day job. Care to share a little about it?

(Laughs) Sure. I am the Social Media and Marketing Assistant for The Formary, a textile recycling and Research and Development company based in Wellington, New Zealand. We work with businesses and organisations worldwide transforming waste fibre into valuable inputs for industry, specialising in the development of agricultural and post-industrial waste fibre. Millions of tonnes of textile waste are dumped globally each year and over 90% of this is recyclable or can be upcycled into a valuable product.

Our ethos is reducing environmental impacts and generating solutions to complex end-of-life textile and clothing problems. I’m part of a very small, passionate team that believes strongly in a sustainable future.

The Formally have a pretty cool initiative happening. Care to tell us about The Movement for Better Quality Clothes?

The Movement for Better Quality Clothes is an awareness based social media action and our (The Formary’s) response to the harrowing evidence that synthetic fibres are polluting our ocean water and oceanic fauna. This, in turn, pollutes us. Several studies have found animals in the ocean contaminated from fibres they suspect originates from plastic packaging and synthetic clothes.

This year scientists also found synthetic microfibers in 83% of global tap water samples. It is believed that synthetic garments are the biggest source of microplastic pollution because up to 1900 fibres can be washed off each garment every time it is washed. We believe the fashion industry needs to dramatically reduce the use of synthetic fabrics in response to the microfiber pollution evidence and that consumers need to be more aware of the global impacts of these synthetics.

Many people don’t realise that synthetic fabrics such as polyester, rayon and acrylic are actually plastic. More than 70 million barrels of oil are used to make polyester each year. So, we created The Movement for Better Quality Clothes to raise awareness around synthetic fabrics, microfiber pollution and the wider environmental impacts involved in synthetic clothing production.

We’re encouraging people to get involved by sharing an image of their synthetic garments proving that plastic is not a good look using the hashtag #plasticaintpretty.

This can be an image of torn synthetic items highlighting the fact that synthetics are poor quality, plastic or textile waste you may have found, or an experience that you’d like to share to encourage others to rethink their synthetic purchases. With this we hope to encourage people to move to more natural fibre clothing as these fibres are biodegradable and will not persist in the environment or the ocean. Our advice is to opt for organic cotton, hemp, linen or wool and not to be fooled by mixed poly-cotton fibre blends as these items are also a major challenge for textile recycling. And stick with these slow fashion tips: mend your current items, upcycle, wash your clothes less, buy less and choose well.

We’re encouraging people to get involved by sharing an image of their synthetic garments proving that plastic is not a good look using the hashtag #plasticaintpretty.

This can be an image of torn synthetic items highlighting the fact that synthetics are poor quality, plastic or textile waste you may have found, or an experience that you’d like to share to encourage others to rethink their synthetic purchases. With this we hope to encourage people to move to more natural fibre clothing as these fibres are biodegradable and will not persist in the environment or the ocean. Our advice is to opt for organic cotton, hemp, linen or wool and not to be fooled by mixed poly-cotton fibre blends as these items are also a major challenge for textile recycling. And stick with these slow fashion tips: mend your current items, upcycle, wash your clothes less, buy less and choose well.

Do you have any sustainable fashion tips or tricks (or favourite labels) you want to share with Sustainability in Style readers?

 

Sustainable fashion is tough to navigate at first, I found the biggest challenge was addressing the fast fashion habit that I had acquired. When you pay attention to how you feel while clothes shopping you begin to understand that it’s mostly an emotional pick-me-up. You also begin to see that the fashion industry markets items in this way. I promise those shoes won’t make you happier, just like the ones before never did! Cure your affluenza by kicking the fast fashion habit. It’s really a mindful-matter more than anything else.

My top sustainable fashion tip is to embrace hand-me-downs and pay your parents and grandparents a visit! I guarantee they have some amazing pieces that they don’t wear and will happily give to you. I am lucky because I have a very stylish Grandmother who has always taken pride in her clothes and she has given me many gorgeous, versatile pieces. Some items are over 30 years old and I just love the story they tell.

When I was younger I used to loathe getting hand-me-downs but I’m so glad I kept them. I also recommend clothes swapping with friends, renting or borrowing pieces for those social anomalies (we all have an outfit we bought for an occasion that we’ll never wear again), shopping at vintage stores and modifying/mending your old items. And of course, choosing natural/organic fibre clothes and natural dyes when purchasing new. I know the prices are scary! But remember that the aim is not to immediately replace your whole wardrobe with fair-trade, organic items. Look out for sales and get to know the brands and their values! I got a new Kowtow organic tee on sale for $10 a few weeks back. Sustainable fashion doesn’t have to be difficult. Think; extending the life of your wardrobe and keeping items out of landfill, and you’re on the right track.

Moving from South Africa to New Zealand must have been a bit of a change! What are some of your favourite ways to connect with nature in your new surrounds?

I love gardening and growing my own food, I think it’s the best way to connect with nature because it really gives you that respect for the natural environment and all the intricate biotic and abiotic relationships. You get to experience how everything in nature is connected and responsive and it grows your sense of wonder, appreciation and responsibility. A healthy planet is directly related to a healthy you and every organism has a part to play. If we all make this “healthy-earth-healthy-humans” connection I believe we have the making for a more compassionate and sustainable world. Plus; home-grown, organic strawberries are delicious!

Living across from the ocean is a first for me, so there has been a lot of exploring and learning and the dogs help us get out the house when we’re feeling a little lazy too. I love all the outdoor activity in New Zealand, you’re never far away from nature and Wellington has got to be one of the coolest little sustainable cities in the world!

If we all make this “healthy-earth-healthy-humans” connection I believe we have the making for a more compassionate and sustainable world. Plus; home-grown, organic strawberries are delicious!

 

Living across from the ocean is a first for me, so there has been a lot of exploring and learning and the dogs help us get out the house when we’re feeling a little lazy too. I love all the outdoor activity in New Zealand, you’re never far away from nature and Wellington has got to be one of the coolest little sustainable cities in the world!

What’s your favourite sustainable living or environmental quote?

That’s a tough one because I’m a serious quote lover! But if I had to choose one I’d say my favourite is: “Be the change you wish to see in the world” – Mahatma Gandhi. It really sums up how I tackle most problems, sustainable or otherwise.

 

Are you optimistic about the idea of a sustainable and equitable future? Why/ Why not?

Yes! I am optimistic about a sustainable and equitable future, but I also understand that there is a lot of work to be done and we have many challenges to overcome. Perhaps I won’t see the ultimate victory in my lifetime, but I admire the many people fighting daily and I believe we have made significant progress. It’s easy to say “oh well! We’re doomed” and throw up our hands, but I cannot accept that. I have an inherent responsibility to the earth and I want to be a part of the solution, not the problem. I think a lot of like-minded individuals creates and inspires a lot of exciting change.

Sustainability in Style would like to thank Daniella for her awesome contribution to people, planet and penguins both at work and at play. Daniella- you are a truly Sustainably Stylish Leader! 

Please share your reflections below and feel free to share any suggestions for every-day-leaders that you would like to learn from in a Sustainability Stylish Leader Interview.