Auckland grandfather and grandson head south to help clean up 'environmental disaster' at Fox River

A granddad-grandson duo are among those helping clean up the "environmental disaster" that is Fox River.

Mukai Duder-Hura helps out with the Fox River cleanup. Source: Supplied

Half of the contents of the Fox River rubbish dump was scattered throughout a national park and marine reserve after the dump was gouged out by a one in 100-year storm on March 26.

Since then, the Government has doubled its funding for the clean-up of the West Coat river, with an additional $300,000 coming from three departments.

The Department of Conservation took over as lead agency for the clean-up of the riverbed and beach on June 19. But the New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) also recently announced they will send up to 70 personnel, vehicles and aircraft to help out.

John Duder, and his grandson Mukai Duder-Hura, 13, help with the Fox River cleanup. Source: Supplied

Also bringing in the big guns, John Duder, 81, and his grandson Mukai Duder-Hura, 13, came down from Auckland to lend a hand.

They worked all day Tuesday - from 9am to 3pm with a break in the middle - and headed back out into the field yesterday after a much-needed rest.

On Wednesday, the weather was bad, but John and Mukai weren't complaining as they spend the day relaxing at the Franz Josef Glacier Hot Pools.

It was Mukai's idea to help with the clean up after seeing it in the news. The teenager told 1 NEWS said it was a good way to spend his school break, but his favourite part was the views. The river is located next to the glaciers, and on a clear day Mt Cook is visible.

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Volunteers are trying to clean up decades of rubbish after a huge storm washed a landfill down a world heritage site on the West Coast. Source: Sunday

John said as a former civil engineer he was no stranger to being involved in community initiatives, but said "this particular problem is a very nasty one".

"We spent the day on our knees hauling rubbish from the ground and trees," he said. "It's hard work.

"It's a messy job, you've got to have the right gear, but you kneel in and get amongst it ... Being here is really important."

He believed they collected more than a cubic metre of rubbish on Tuesday. "It's a feeling you've done a useful thing ... every piece of rubbish represents a fish.

And, despite the tough work, getting out in the field with Mukai was "a great thing to do together", and John recommended others get involved too.

Department of Conservation South Westland community ranger Stephanie Sanson told 1 NEWS numbers of volunteers were on the rise, from 24 people today, to 40 expected next week. The aim was to get 60 plus a day.

John Duder and Mukai Duder-Hura meet with Minister of Conservation Eugenie Sage at Fox Glacier. Source: Supplied

People had travelled from throughout the country, and even some people visiting New Zealand had volunteered their time, including people from France and the UK.

"It's amazing," Ms Sanson said. "It's very humbling to think that people care so much about nature and want to help out."

She said it gave her "the warm fuzzies" to see the project grow in support.

People often think New Zealand is a clean, green and beautiful place, but Fox River is not that way right now, she said.

"If every New Zealander spent a day [volunteering] then they would understand really why we want this to happen."

Minister of Conservation Eugenie Sage, who met with volunteers in Fox Glacier yesterday, said today significant progress had been made in the clean up effort. 

DOC has mapped the riverbed and coast in detail, especially the 5km of riverbed which has the worst log jams trapping rubbish. The area has been divided into cells and DOC is organising equipment and volunteers to methodically work on these areas.

"Already DOC’s Operation Tidy Fox has cleared of rubbish 25 ha of riverbed between the Fox River Bridge and the confluence with the Cook River," Ms Sage said. "That’s about the same area as 36 rugby fields, in the worst affected and hardest to deal with area."

Minister of Conservation Eugenie Sage meets with volunteers cleaning up Fox River. Source: Supplied

She said the time, energy and commitment from volunteers was making a real difference and is now backed by the organisational support and incident management from DOC.

"It is estimated 5500 tonnes of rubbish were eroded out of the Fox Glacier landfill by the March flood. The worst affected area runs from the State Highway bridge over the Fox River for 5km downstream, this where many of the log jams are. The area still to be cleared of rubbish includes riverbanks, river braids and islands.

"Since DOC took over, the team of daily volunteers has grown from fewer than 10 volunteers to around 50 people. Together these incredible people have picked up 55 fadges (big wool sack style bags) of rubbish. Each fadge weighs approximately half a tonne/500 kgs."

The job is expected to go on until next month, and people wanting to volunteer can sign up online.