Taking care of our coastlines

Marine Science alumnus Fletcher Sunde is instilling a respect for the environment in young minds, fueled by his lifelong passion for the marine world.

Fletcher Sunde
Fletcher Sunde

“ You have to
give people the
tools to connect
with nature
for themselves
and from there,
action will

Fletcher Sunde

FLETCHER ALWAYS wanted to be either a marine biologist or a pilot. “I always spent a lot of time fishing when I was younger on the Manukau Harbour with my dad and brother. We used to see all sorts of things, like sharks and dolphins, so that was probably the start of everything.”

In school, he was always good at science, especially chemistry and physics but during his university years biology became his passion and he’s never looked back. He graduated in 2008 with a Bachelor of Science in Biology and Marine Science. Two years later he completed a Postgraduate Diploma in Science (Biology) after which he went further, gaining a Master of Science in Marine Science in 2012.

“Uni is such great fun and you make such good friends. I did a field study across the Hauraki Gulf intertidal and got to survey about 30 sites, including places like Green Island, which is completely off limits to anyone without a permit.”

Where have you been working since you graduated?

After my Master of Science I took off to South East Asia for nearly four years, where I went from science intern to project leader at the Tropical Research and Conservation Centre (TRACC) on Pom Pom Island in Malaysia, working on coral reef restoration and turtle conservation. I also spent a year attempting to start up my own NGO (Project Lautan) in Sumbawa, Indonesia with a uni friend and learned some hard lessons along the way before I returned to Auckland to work with Sustainable Coastlines.

What do you do in your current role at Sustainable Coastlines?

As Operations Director, I lead our team in delivering our three conservation programmes on the ground: Love Your Coast, Love Your Water and Litter Intelligence. I love this role because I can still get my hands dirty and support our programme managers, coordinators and interns to deliver our grassroots actions in communities across Aotearoa, dealing with plastic pollution and freshwater restoration. You have to give people the tools to connect with nature for themselves and from there, conservation action will follow.

What has been the highlight of your career so far?

My experience working at TRACC in Borneo was one of the best times in my life. The project was based on a tiny island straddling the Celebes and Coral Seas. We conducted coral reef restoration work, surveyed turtles and translocated turtle eggs to protect them from poaching.

Where do you see your career heading? What else would you like to achieve?

One day I’d really like to get back into research. There’s something really awesome about discovering new things, no matter how small they might be.

What sustainability-focused behaviours and processes do you hope will be the norm in 5–10 years?

There is a big opportunity to incorporate indigenous wisdom into how we see the world and I hope this will start to happen more, as it already is here in Aotearoa.

What motivates you to contribute to a more sustainable world?

Put simply, hope. Positivity breeds positivity. That me simply being positive and hopeful can actually stimulate others to do the same and therefore create positive environmental choices, is a very powerful thought and motivating in its own right. It’s about providing hope and inspiration to people, which then puts them on a more sustainable and regenerative pathway. Instead of telling people why they should do something, it’s more powerful if you show them.

Finally, tell us something about yourself that we can’t learn by Googling you!

I’m in the middle of restoring my boat! A 1961 Lapworth 50 and the first of her kind, designed by William C. Lapworth and built by Choey Lee in Hong Kong.


This article appears in the December 2020 edition of inSCight, the print magazine for Faculty of Science alumni. View more articles from inSCight.

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