Group photo on the river.

Image: Ruth McKie | DOC


DOC coordinated Operation Tidy Fox between the 19 June and 15 August 2019. The project cleared rubbish from 1313 ha thanks to the help of almost 1000 volunteers.


Date:  22 August 2019

Operation Tidy Fox was a massive operation led by DOC from 19 June and 15 August 2019. The project cleared landfill rubbish from 1313 ha of the Fox and Cook Rivers, along 64km of the South Westland coastline.

While DOC led the call for volunteers, supporting the number of people who showed up would not have been possible without the NZDF, who provided military personnel, logistical support, vehicles and helicopters to support the task force of volunteers.

Operation Tidy Fox's people power

Volunteers contributed over 3,000 days to remove around 14,500 bags of rubbish from the riverbed and coastline. The Opertion included:

  • Almost 1000 volunteers co-ordinated by DOC
  • 130 New Zealand's Defence Force (NZDF) personnel
  • 1600 NZDF person days
  • 20 NZDF vehicles

Mike Bilodeau, a local resident, started the South Westland Coastal Cleanup community group and led the inital volunteer response to cleanup rubbish on the affected coastline. Westland District Council (WDC) led the effort to temporarily safeguard the landfill from spilling further and boosted the volunteer effort to cleanup rubbish on the beaches.

After WDC ended management work of the project, DOC coordinated a massive volunteer effort to remove rubbish from the area. 

NZDF also contributed a workforce personnel and vehicles to pick up rubbish, who worked in often difficult terrain at speed to complete this enormous task. DOC worked alongside the NZDF to forward plan where to transport volunteers and what facilities they required to move people and keep them comfortable. 

DOC staff managing the incident and leading teams of volunteers spent 833 days on the cleanup and NZDF contributed 1600 person days.

Some rubbish will remain buried below the riverbed, and rubbish that has already entered the sea will wash up on the beaches.

Where did the rubbish come from?

A landfill that had been closed since the early 2000s spilled buried waste into the river after an extraordinary rain event. Rubbish flowed out of the Fox Glacier landfill, which sat next to the Fox River.

Floods sent rubbish 21 km downstream through Westland Tai Poutini National Park, and into the Tasman sea. They also destroyed the main highway bridge in Franz Josef and caused widespread damage in South Westland. 

Most of the rubbish consisted of plastic, much of which was decades old. The landfill and its effects on the environment are the responsibility of Westland District Council.

How Operation Tidy Fox began

On the 3 May, the Government announced $300,000 would be available to the council to assist them in the cleanup effort, and a $150k in-kind contribution from DOC. On the 28 May 2019 Westland District Council (WDC) said it had run out of money for the cleanup. 

WDC led the initial cleanup response until stating their management work in the Fox riverbed would cease on 31 May 2019.

On 19 June 2019 the Minister of Conservation announced that DOC would replace WDC as the lead agency coordinating the cleanup of the riverbed and coast downstream of the Fox Glacier landfill.

Areas cleared

Overview of all zones (JPG, 1,699K)

Zone 1 – 389 ha (JPG, 3,079K)

  • equivalent to 555 rugby fields
  • 5 km stretch of the Fox River from the Fox State Highway Bridge to the confluence with the Cook River
  • where majority of rubbish and logjams are

Zone 2 – 881 ha (JPG, 3,351K)

  • equivalent to 1,258 rugby fields
  • 16 km stretch of the Cook riverbed from the confluence to the Tasman Sea
  • large but more sparsely impacted

Zone 3 – 64 km of coastline (JPG, 1,583K) 

  • length of coastline from 10 km south of the mouth of the Cook River to Waitahi Bluff – the northern tip of the north of Okarito Beach


16 August 2019

Thanks to the incredible effort of almost 1000 volunteers, the cleanup has finished!

Our incident management centre, which has been the base for both DOC and the New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF), has packed up today. 

Supporting the number of people who showed up would not have been possible without the NZDF. Thank you again to everyone who worked on Operation Tidy Fox.

DOC and NZDF demobilize from Fox Glacier

1 August 2019

Thanks to everyone who has signed up as a volunteer on Operation Tidy Fox. Because we have had such a fantastic response, we see an end in sight of mid-August for the Operation. Because of this we are no longer signing up volunteers. Thank you all so much.

So far on the rubbish cleanup, we've had:

  • 2,392 volunteer days worked
  • 661 NZDF days worked, and 5
  • 543 DOC staff days worked.

End in sight for Fox riverbed cleanup

26 July 2019

It's all go here at Operation Tidy Fox. Areas are getting cleared faster than we have ever seen – it's certainly putting a smile on everyone's faces here.

We had 112 volunteers on Thursday 25 July, our biggest day on record, and with 55 NZDF personnel here now we are a pretty powerful army. Over the week we've seen volunteer numbers above 100. This has been awesome – after all it is going to take “people power” to get this job done!

We have cleared over 50% of Zone 1 and are now starting to clear areas in Zone 2. With the help from the NZDF we can access areas that our DOC vehicles can't. There are 45 NZDF "pickers" who are picking up rubbish in more difficult terrain areas around the Cook River (Zone 2).

19 July 2019

Volunteer numbers are steady. We've had assistance from approximately 600 volunteers since DOC took over the response and 300 are signed up until the end of August. We've had 60–80 volunteers most days this week and expecting similar numbers next week.

We're continuing to spread the word that we need people power to get this job done, there's still so much work to do and we need to continue this momentum. Some volunteers and DOC staff travelled all the way down from the far north (Kaitaia) to assist with the cleanup this week. Watch an inspiring interview with Mina Pomare-Peita (Principal of Panguru School) on YouTube

We've cleared 111 ha of the worst affected area, this is 29% of Zone 1 (Zone 1 is 389 ha and runs from the Fox River bridge towards the Cook River). We have filled 160 fadges which is approximately 80 tons of rubbish. 

The NZDF has 18 personnel and eight vehicles supporting Operation Tidy Fox. With 45 additional NZDF personnel due to arrive next week we're starting to coordinate plans for clearing Zone 2 (Cook River to the Tasman Sea). 

The Royal New Zealand Air Force A109 light utility helicopter arrived yesterday. Wayne Costello, Operations Manager for DOC in South Westland, says NZDF will be tasked with leading the cleanup of Zone 2 and Zone 3 (the coastline). The helicopter reconnaissance will enable DOC to share local knowledge of the access parts, hazards and suggest strategies for tackling these hard to reach zones. 

12 July 2019

We've seen a large number of volunteers arrive this week who've made great progress but there's still a lot of work to do.

Our volunteers and DOC staff have been working in the worst affected area between running 5 kms downstream from the Fox River bridge. But there are other areas that will need our attention as well where the rubbish is more spread out and harder to get to.

More than 54 tons of rubbish has been removed from the worst affected area (Zone 1). We have cleared rubbish from 71 ha which is about the same as 100 rugby fields. But we still need to clear rubbish from the equivalent of 500 rugby fields before this area is complete.

Various community businesses are coming together to support the volunteers and it's great to see the local community support for Operation Tidy Fox.

There is still a significant amount of rubbish that needs to be cleared and we need all the help we can get to try and clear as much as possible before spring rain threatens to wash rubbish into the sea.

The first wave of the New Zealand Defence Force personnel and vehicles joined us this week and the extra resources have proven to be a boost for the team. A Pinzgauer Light Operational all-terrain vehicle is helping to transport our volunteers and collect bags filled with rubbish. You may have seen the Pinzgauer driving around town. More personnel will be arriving next week.

Picture of the total area cleared to date (JPG, 3,000K).

2 July 2019 – Person power needed!

We are pleased that the New Zealand Defence Force will be sending around 70 helpers, vehicles and aircraft to assist for four weeks from July. 

Existing volunteers and DOC staff have been doing a great job on the river bed but the more people we have, the more rubbish we can clean up. Come join us.

Since 15 June, 54 fadges full of rubbish have been picked up out of the river bed over 24.6 ha. These have been removed by the council for disposal.

We've put the call out for more volunteers on social media and through our volunteering contacts, and so far 125 people have signed up for a total of 349 days till the end of August. We've worked with the Fox community to organise enough accommodation for a large number of volunteers.

You can follow our progress on the South Westland Coastal Cleanup Facebook page.

24 June 2019

The DOC incident management team is in place in Fox Glacier. DOC led teams of volunteers are working on the river flats collecting rubbish.

For the last week there have been teams of 15–20 volunteers at work in the riverbed. Rubbish is tangled in log jams and under rocks and a digger is being used to free the rubbish so it is easier for volunteers to collect.


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