Marine mammals, sea birds and seals are at risk of becoming tangled in or digesting the plastic rubbish that continues to flow down the Fox and Cook rivers after a landfill collapsed in a massive flood in March.
The Fox landfill was partially washed away and continues to spread down both rivers, through the nearby bush and onto beaches along the West Coast. Many of these precious landscapes are part of Te Wahi Pounamu – UNESCO World Heritage Area.
While many volunteers have been working hard to clean the rubbish, there is still around 5,000 tonnes left and time to clean it is running out.
Potential catastrophic impact on wildlife
If the rubbish is not removed before the annual spring floods, these floods will wash tonnes of rubbish out to sea, polluting the Tauparaka and Hautai marine reserves. These coastal sanctuaries are home to Hector’s dolphins and several penguin species.
An enormous task ahead
The spring floods are expected from September. The Department of Conservation is leading the clean up effort with the many volunteers who show up daily to remove rubbish. DOC is aiming to complete the work by the end of August.
The focus for the clean-up has now shifted to the Fox and Cook Riverbeds, over a distance of approximately 21km. The area to be cleared of rubbish includes riverbanks, river braids and islands, and is approximately 1,620ha. To date, around 2km of riverbed margin has been cleaned. Another sweep of the coast will also be needed as a lot more rubbish is expected to have been washed down the river and back up onto beaches.