It led him to establish Clean Up Australia, which 30 years later, is still going strong.
The environmentalist, yachtsman and 1994 Australian of the Year has died in Sydney, aged 78, after a short battle with cancer.
Ian Bruce Carrick Kiernan was born near Sydney Harbour on October 4, 1940, but was educated in the country, at Armidale in northern NSW.
After graduating from Sydney Technical College as a builder, he later specialised in historic restorations.
A keen yachtsman, Kiernan sailed competitively for more than 40 years. In 1987 he represented Australia in the BOC world yacht race. He set the Australian record for a solo sail around the world, finishing in sixth place.
It was touring the seas where Kiernan became dismayed at the level of pollution – plastic bags, nappies, bottles and cans – clogging the world’s waterways.
He organised community event Clean Up Sydney Harbour in January 1989. More than 40,000 volunteers joined the effort, and a year later the national campaign was set in motion.
In 1993 he took his vision to the world stage, creating Clean Up the World, with 30 million volunteers from 80 countries participating.
Kiernan was Australian of the Year in 1994. Four years later, he received the prestigious United Nations Environment Program Sasakawa Environment Prize for “mobilising tens of millions of people around the globe”.
Media commentator Phillip Adams called him “the greatest garbo since Greta”.
In 2014, he was fined $1000 and had his licence suspended for six months following a mid-range drink-driving charge.
Last year his name was among other worthy Australians in the running to be emblazoned on the side of a Sydney ferry.
But in a move that stunned the public, NSW Transport Minister Andrew Constance made a “captain’s call” and opted instead for Ferry McFerryface.
FOI documents showed Kiernan’s name had received the most public votes in a naming competition that cost taxpayers $100,000. Following the news Kiernan blasted the transport minister.
“He’s made a balls-up of it,” Kiernan told AAP at the time.
He was Chairman of the Sydney Olympics 2000 Bid Community Relations Committee and a member of the Environment Committee.
He has two daughters, Sally and Pip, from his first marriage.
Clean Up Australia says one of Kiernan’s final requests was that, rather then sending flowers, people support his passion and commitment by making a donation to Clean Up Australia.
Make your contribution to independent news
A donation of any size to InDaily goes directly to helping our journalists uncover the facts. South Australia needs more than one voice to guide it forward, and we’d truly appreciate your contribution. Please click below to donate to InDaily.