Participate in citizen science with an Upstream Battle

Citizen science is a great way for you, your family, students or community to get involved, collaborate and contribute to litter solutions whilst gaining experience in data collection and analysis. Even though up to 80% of all marine litter in the world’s oceans originates from land, there’s not much detail known about where it comes from or what exactly is making its way from the land to the ocean through our waterways. This is where you come in!

Our Upstream Battle citizen science programme provides a better understanding of how litter enters our waterways and how it contributes to the root cause of ocean pollution, and serves as a platform for people young and old to take action and make a difference in preserving the health and beauty of our waterways.

Upstream Battle is proudly presented by Suntory’s international Mizuiku Education Programme for Nature and Water, which is specifically designed to educate the next generation on the importance of clean water conservation. The Upstream Battle resources incorporate elements of Suntory’s international Mizuiku programme, giving a vital global perspective to your local audit. Find out more here.

Better yet, the data collected from Upstream Battle and its sister programme Backyard Battle – which focuses on inland litter – will provide a secondary dataset to our National Litter Audit. Together the data will feed into a shared database that will help to inform local and national legislation, our community led programming and behaviour change campaigns.

How to do an Upstream Battle

It’s easy to get started with an Upstream Battle, but because the audit is more statistically rigorous than a simple clean up, there’s more of a process to begin. In this blog post, we will guide you through the process of conducting an Upstream Battle citizen science audit.

You can find the full step-by-step guide here, ready to be printed for use in the field. Here’s a summary to get you started.

1. Register and check out the Upstream Battle resources

  • •  Jump onto to our website to explore the Upstream Battle resources provided when you register your Battle, such as downloadable guides, templates and checklists.
    • TIP: If you’re not ready to commit to an Upstream Battle audit just yet, you can still register your interest to get access to Mizuiku resources including school curriculum links and a classroom lesson guide covering the water cycle, and the importance of keeping our waterways and ocean litter free.
  •  • Choose a waterway near your school or community to assess its litter situation.
    • TIP: The site doesn’t have to be heavily littered, as data from ‘clean’ sites is equally as valuable as data from littered sites.
  •  • Once you’ve gathered your group of enthusiastic participants (students, family, friends or community members) make sure you register your event at
  •  • Save the confirmation email you’ll receive in a safe place – it contains all the links you need to get started!

2. Make sure you’ve got your equipment ready to go

  •  • Download, read through and print off any of the guides or templates you received in your confirmation email that you will need on the day.
    • Make sure you have a copy of the Upstream Battle Survey Sheet which you’ll need to capture the data, or you might like to use the online version if your site has internet coverage.
  •  • Ensure you have the necessary equipment, including gloves, litter pickers, and bags.
  •  • Make arrangements to dispose of any litter you collect on the day of your event.
  •  • Make sure your site meets our criteria. Remember that an Upstream Battle is more statistically rigorous than a simple clean up, and the data we receive from you goes towards painting an accurate picture of litter nationwide.

3. Get started!

Remember, health and safety first: make sure your site is safe to collect from, you’ve briefed everyone on any hazards, and you’re wearing protective gloves and suitable footwear.

  •  • Record information on the Upstream Battle Survey Sheet, such as what type of waterway it is, the date and time, the number of participants and what the weather is like. All this detail helps build a picture of how the litter you find wound up where it did.
  •  • Choose your site (known as a transect), including a safe line which is the closest you’ll get to the water. Your safe line is likely to be a fence, the crest of steep banking or vegetation growing along the water’s edge.
    • TIP: If the nature of your site and chosen safe line means that any part of the transect is more than 10 m away from the water you should choose a different site.
  •  • Measure out the site you’ll be auditing and mark it with chalk or stakes. This should be 100 m in length, running alongside the waterway and no wider than 10 m from the water’s edge.
    • TIP: If there is a path at your site, the transect should stretch from your chosen safe line to 1 m beyond the path.
  •  • Record the latitude and longitude of the corners of your site, so we know exactly where you’re auditing.
  •  • Count the amount of floating litter that goes past in one minute from a good vantage point, and record it.
  •  • Visually grade the amount of litter accumulating on the bank/water’s edge. Don’t forget to look for any graffiti, pavement or overflowing bins and consider them too.

4. Conduct your clean up!

  •  • Remember to take before and after photos, or a short video to take in the whole area.

5. Sort, count, weigh and record your litter

  •  • Group items first by main material type (e.g. plastic vs. glass vs. rubber, etc.) and then by the material subcategory (e.g. bottles vs. wrappers, etc.). Use the Upstream Battle Survey Sheet to help you do this.
  •  • Count each item in every material subcategory and mark the appropriate number on the survey sheet.
  •  • Now weigh the total items per material subcategory, or if you don’t have time to do that you can simply weigh items by material type (e.g. all the plastic together, all the glass together).
    • TIP: If you’re even more restricted for time, please just weigh the total amount of litter collected. This could be done by weighing each bag of litter and then adding up their weights, or just record each bag and we’ll do the calculation for you.
  •  • Record in the description whether the litter was wet or dry.
  •  • Report any hazardous or very large items to your council using the Snap, Send, Solve app [LINK]
  •  • Don’t forget to take photos of any interesting items!

5. Report your findings

  •  • Click on the link you received in your registration confirmation email and follow the instructions on our website to upload photos and report your findings. Easy!
  •  • If you’ve misplaced your confirmation email, no problem! Just email us at and we’ll send you the link again.

While there’s no time limit on conducting an Upstream Battle, with some sites being completed in as little as an hour depending on the terrain, how many participants and how much litter is around, many of the Battles that have already been completed have taken around 90 minutes to complete.

Ka pai, well done! You’ve completed an Upstream Battle, and have contributed to building our knowledge of litter in Aotearoa 😊

Bonus: Reflection

  •  • Having data on how a site changes over time is invaluable. Look to repeat your Upstream Battle in a few months’ time, next season, or as often as you like!
  •  • Discuss the findings with your class or group and brainstorm possible solutions to reduce litter in our waterways.
  •  • Consider organising clean up events, community workshops, or awareness campaigns to create long-lasting change.

Want to contribute even more to citizen science? Check out our Backyard Battle programme which gets students, teachers, and volunteers out collecting litter at key inland sites, such as public recreational spaces, highways and railways, car parks, residential, retail and industrial sites to help create a better understanding of litter’s pathway across our land. Read more here.

Sign up for an Upstream Battle here >>

Talk to us about getting an Educational Facilitator to your school here >>

Read more about our partnership with Suntory here >>

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