Shark Bay's War on Waste

Quietly tucked away at the end of the main drag in Denham sits a special little thrift store. If you’re in the mood to find some hidden treasure, look for the rainbow pinwheel taped to the charming chalkboard sign and take a dive inside.


Chris and Josie welcomed us into their opportunity shop with cheery smiles and a quick introduction on the War on Waste mission. A few years ago, the Australian government shared images of how much ocean pollution comes from citizens’ waste output, and the coastal community quickly took action. Shark Bay’s War on Waste campaign was born on the simple plan to reduce ocean pollution by reducing waste production.

“We want to protect the natural beauty of our home. We love this place because of the ocean. People come here for the ocean,” explained Josie. It makes sense - marine ecosystems are such a part of the Shark Bay identity, so the community is keen to protect them. 

Thrift stores are a great way to encourage communities to reuse old materials instead of letting them go to waste. So WOW put out a few donation boxes around town and started their shop.

The campaign also passed a local ban on plastic bags. Sea turtles often mistake floating bags for jellyfish, one of their preferred food options. Once ingested, a plastic bag inhibits digestion and will usually kill a turtle. All the stores in Denham have stopped providing plastic bags and instead require a 10-cent donation to the War on Waste campaign if you want one.


But 10 cents isn’t quite breaking the bank, so they took it one step further and offered a creative alternative. They took tank tops from the donation boxes and designed a no-sew reusable bag to disperse around town!

Not only does this take an article of clothing out of the waste stream, but it also reduces plastic consumption at the same time! It’s a win-win. Chris and Josie excitedly explained how they got the community involved at an annual festival. Their booth featured a hands-on workshop to show folks how to make their own no-sew grocery bags and engage with environmental protection from home.


After teaching a visiting school teacher how to make the crafty bags, she brought the project back to her classroom in Perth as an activity to engage kids with sustainability. Not long after, a group of her students were awarded with a certificate of excellence from the Mayor for convincing three shops in town to stop using plastic bags.

“Environmentalism is a domino effect - it starts here, but it keeps spreading!” Josie was proudly grinning ear-to-ear.

Not long after the shop opened, they were making enough to hire a full-time overseer to keep their hours consistent. They were thriving. Their profits even covered a new sewing machine, which quickly changed the game.


No-sew bags were soon accompanied by campy tote bags sewn from colorful linen donations. Eventually they started holding sewing workshops to teach others how to make things out of old cloth instead of adding it to the waste stream.

Chris stressed the importance of grassroots community campaigns, “you can’t wait for the big corporations to do it.”

Now, the shop proceeds go back into the community. WOW donates to local emergency medical volunteers, search and rescue teams, and local scuba divers. By providing the funds for oxygen tanks, WOW gives divers the opportunity to do ocean cleanups. They’ve created a campaign that interjects at each point of the cycle, from waste reduction to recovery.

Since the plastic bag ban, WOW has expanded to other waste reduction initiatives. Nowadays, if you bring your own reusable mug to any of the shops in Denham, you can save 50 cents on a coffee! There's also a local student working on a design for reusable titanium straws as an alternative to the harmful plastic ones.

Denham’s War on Waste is an exceptional example of how community-driven campaigns can make a big difference for environmental protection. Lifestyle changes are the best way for people to make a difference without waiting for political action. Chris and Josie explained how easy it is to create a holistic approach to saving our oceans. It all starts with initiative.


When we walked in, they told us that they had so many donations that everything in the shop was only $1. Needless to say, we scored some sweet finds.

Home Away From Home

Coming back to EcoQuest.


There sits a small town on the coast of the Firth of Thames named Kaiaua. Few people, including native kiwis themselves, know of this fishing town. Kaiaua, however, holds a pot of gold cherished by the lucky few who have gotten to experience it: Kaiaua Fisheries (also known as the best fish n chips shop in the entire world).


Upon leaving Auckland, we headed straight to the little blue shop for the nostalgic taste of fried hoki and garlic aoili.


Better still, there sits a small campus just north of these chips in a town called Whakatiwai (the wh- is pronounced as “f”.) This campus is near and dear to my heart, as many of my friends reading this can attest to. EcoQuest Education Foundation is a precious gem that only the luckiest of college students get to discover. 

EcoQuest is a field studies program accredited through the University of New Hampshire, drawing anywhere between 20-26 students from around the US every semester. For 15 weeks (or 5 weeks for the summer program), “EcoQuesters” are immersed in hands-on learning all over beautiful Aotearoa. From the sparkling waters of Goat Island in the north to the secluded forests of Craigieburn in the south, insightful EcoQuest educators turn the natural world into a classroom with just a few Write In The Rain notebooks.

I was lucky enough to spend my fall semester of 2015 at EcoQuest - or rather spring, since we’re technically in the southern hemisphere. In those 15 weeks, I learned about the towering kauri trees of the Coromandel and the deep water trench of Kaikoura. But more importantly, I learned the depths of my passion and the scope of my aspirations.

So, what better place to begin a life-changing 16-month journey around the world than a faraway place I call home?


I walked the empty campus and let the memories flood my mind - some of which I had forgotten were there. I imagined both hectic days and lazy ones, wishing to be surrounded by my family just one more time. It’s rare in life to be changed in such a profound way that EcoQuest can do to its students. A part of my soul will forever remain in the tattered couch in Granny’s, in the creaky picnic tables outside the Wharekai, in the spirit of EcoQuest.

While I admittedly held onto a bit of jealousy for the current EcoQuest students, I was mostly excited for them to discover the magic of the adventures they’re about to have. In fact, a lot of the value of EcoQuest has been in the years following my departure from Aotearoa, looking back in reflection as to how it changed me for the better. It’s hard to explain the forces of EQ, and I surely wouldn’t want to spoil it for them, but it would be against the spirit of the EcoQuest family not to leave a note for the current students:

Dear EcoQuesters,

I am sorry to have missed you this weekend, I would’ve loved to meet you and give you all the secrets to a perfect semester here in Aotearoa. Lucky for you, they are even more magical when you discover them yourselves. I walked around an empty campus and memories flooded my mind. I would give anything to be back here with my family. I miss the early morning coffee on the Wharekai patio, or afternoon volleyball, late night Granny’s shenanigans… even 3am DRP all-nighters - don’t worry, they’re not that bad. Cherish every moment you have in this magical place with these magnificent people. Enjoy your adventures, big and small. Absorb the knowledge of those around you. Let it change you. Leave this place better than when you arrived. But again, don’t worry, it happens naturally.

Even in facing the trip of my dreams, I can’t help but covet the days I spent here. EcoQuest made me who I am. EcoQuest gave me passion and ambition to follow my dreams. I am beyond grateful to start this journey at my home on the other side of the world. <3

Take care of it. Leave part of yourself here. Take some of it with you. Hold onto it forever.

All my love,

Marijane Soilis, EQ Fall 2015

Revisiting such a meaningful place reminded me how to open myself up again, how to make myself vulnerable to self-improvement. As I head out on the road for the foreseeable future, I take with me the spirit of EcoQuest. I hope to find the same inspiration as I did two years ago. 

Many, many thanks to Ria & Jono for putting us up in cabin 5 this past weekend, and changing my life forever.