They came from all over the country, now a massive volunteer effort to clean-up a pristine part of the West Coast has ended.
About 75 kilometres of coastline and riverbed was strewn with rubbish after torrential rainfall and flooding in late March exposed a disused landfill at Fox River, near Fox Glacier township.
After a two-day final push, Sunday marked the end of the volunteer effort overseen by the Department of Conservation (DOC). Along with the New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) and others, volunteers collected nearly 14,000 rubbish bags worth.
The storm exposed about 135,000 kilograms of rubbish from the old landfill, spilling it into the river and sending it 21 kilometres downstream through Westland Tai Poutini National Park and into the Tasman Sea.
By Sunday, the worst-affected 5km stretch of the river had been cleared. A 64km stretch of coastline has also been cleared, leaving just part of the lower 16km of the river, which DOC and the NZDF hopes to complete this week.
The Fox River landfill site was exposed by flooding in March.
To celebrate, barbecues were fired up at the local community centre on Sunday night. DOC director general Lou Sanson said Operation Tidy Fox was one of the largest volunteer efforts DOC had coordinated, with nearly 1000 people working 3349 volunteer days.
"We've just been completely inundated with volunteers and we've had to turn away hundreds. It's just been an incredible effort of volunteers from all over New Zealand," he said.
DOC took over responsibility for the clean-up in mid-June after the Westland District Council, which spent nearly $600,000, ran out of funds. Sanson said a temporary seal had been put on the landfill, but warned more would have to be done. "Another storm event may well take it out."
Volunteers collected nearly 14,000 rubbish bags worth of rubbish.
Among the rubbish, volunteers recovered thousands of plastic butter and jam containers. Sanson said the operation highlighted the risk of having landfills near rivers and coastal areas, particularly with impacts from climate change. The West Coast alone had 12 at-risk landfills, Sanson said.
"As the clean-up finishes and people head off, I'm certain this experience and seeing the impact of plastic in our environment will stay with everyone forever."
Sanson said the number of volunteers averaged between 100 and 150 a day. NZDF also provided key support, contributing 130 personnel, 20 vehicles and a helicopter over the course of the operation.
DOC ranger Stephanie Sanson picks up rubbish in Fox River.
Nearly 1000 volunteers were involved in Operation Tidy Fox.
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