Motutapu WWII bunkers get a clean-up

Earlier this month, teams from EnviroWaste and ChemWaste joined forces with the Department of Conservation, local iwi Ngāi Tai ki Tāmaki and volunteers from several organisations to clean up and restore historic military bunkers on Motutapu.

Department of Conservation (DOC) Supervisor Dr Leigh Joyce says the pest-free island in the Hauraki Gulf is haven for a number of protected and endangered species – but has a lesser-known military history. 

“During World War II, Motutapu was heavily fortified to protect Auckland from an expected invasion by Japanese forces as the conflict moved south.”

Dr Leigh Joyce says DOC was aware the bunkers held a variety of material and waste, some of it dating back to World War II, which needed to be retrieved or disposed of. DOC staff saw an opportunity to work with iwi and partners to spruce up the structures, save items of interest and get rid of rubbish.

It’s thought the waste in the bunker has accumulated over many years.

The work to clean up the bunkers on the island was part of a four-week project involving DOC staff, EnviroWaste, ChemWaste, Ngāi Tai ki Tāmaki, Motutapu Outdoor Education Centre, Motutapu Restoration Trust, Rangitoto Island Historic Conservation Trust and Sea Cleaners.

“Most of the material removed was general waste, sorted into rubbish, recyclable items and scrap metal,” Dr Leigh Joyce says.

Some interesting historical items were kept aside including old narrow rusting metal bed frames – possibly from the war, an old Singer sewing machine and an amazing old concrete mixer on wheels.

“So far, the team has removed more than 120 cubic metres of waste and recycling, plus 40 cubic metres of scrap metal to be recycled. To put that into perspective the carrying capacity of a large truck is 8–10 cubic metres.”

“It was great to be able to work alongside the EnviroWaste and ChemWaste teams to understand what materials could be recovered and what needed special consideration from an environmental perspective,” Dr Leigh Joyce says.

“It was messy, the days were hot, yet the job was done immaculately, and we can all feel good knowing materials recovered from the island will have another life. We are extremely appreciative of contribution of the volunteers who helped. It’s more than just removing rubbish – it’s about helping restore the mana of Motutapu.”

Material and items removed from the bunkers and considered salvageable will be assessed based on heritage best practice to see what can be preserved and potentially displayed.

EnviroWaste CEO Chris Aughton says the company is committed to working in partnership so future generations can enjoy this incredibly beautiful country and its rich history.

“The Motutapu clean up shows the decisions made by earlier generations live with us for many years. We’re aiming to be good ancestors today, so we were proud to come together with DOC and Ngāi Tai ki Tāmaki to help them assess the historic materials left on the island. The team did an incredible job, and the project shows how communities, DOC and resource recovery specialists like us can work together to leave the environment in a better place,” says Chris Aughton.

Deputy Chair of Ngāi Tai ki Tāmaki ki Billy Brown says, “the actions taken show collective ownership to restore the mauri of the motu and DOC taking greater responsibility for the long-term outcomes.”

Jamie McEwan

Picture caption: EnviroWaste National Key Account Manager Jamie McEwan helps clean up a WWII bunker on Motutapu.