'The new normal': DOC official says climate change makes repeat of Fox River event likely

After five months the Fox River clean-up is nearing its end, but DOC's general director says events like this could be the new norm.

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As the volunteer clean-up effort comes to an end, DOC director general Lou Sanson speaks to Breakfast. Source: Breakfast

A storm on the West Coast in March this year caused a landfill to spill and left rubbish strewn along the beach.

Department of Conservation staff (DOC), the New Zealand Defence Force and almost 1000 volunteers took part in the clean-up.

There are twelve landfill sites in Westland alone and many are concerned about what may happen to them if another weather event took place.

DOC's director general Lou Sanson told TVNZ1's Breakfast there is work going on among ministers at the moment around this issue.

"It's a problem of climate change, sea level rise and the storm event on March 26, where they had 1.1 metres of rain, well this could be the new normal," he says.

He said there really is no other way to operate clean-ups like Fox River without a volunteer base.

"I cannot see any other way than using volunteers. It is the local government's responsibility but they just don't have the resources."

Mr Sanson says a clean-up like this is a huge job.

"Mike Bilodeau, who started the movement with Westland District Council, on June 1 he told me, 'we've been here for five weeks, we've done about four per cent'.

"I could see the issue he was dealing with.  There was so much plastic amongst so many trees that we had to figure out a better way of doing it. 

"Really it was just the sheer power of volunteers, it was manual hard labour picking up thousand and thousands of little plastic butters that you get at hotels and plastic bags," Mr Sanson said.

DOC's general director says he doesn't think getting volunteers will ever be an issue.

"In the end we were turning away volunteers. They saw the hard end and how plastics never go away."