Current Projects

These community-driven projects are being funded by the Otago Participatory Science Platform. Read on to discover how these projects are bringing kids, communities and scientists together.

1. Ecosystem restoration

  • Removing invasive wilding conifers from the local ecosystem
  • Student monitoring of vegetation change over time


Three key sites are the focus of this project dealing with the threat to the local environment posed by wilding conifers – Ben Lomond, Moke Lake and the Matagauri Wetland.


Wilding conifers are an invasive plant species that is overrunning the natural environment and threatening local glacial landscapes and tussock views. Groups involved in the fight against the confers include the Queenstown Lakes District Council, the Department of Conservation, Skyline and Trees for Survival – ACCOR.


Queenstown Primary School also plays a key role in these efforts, having mobilised more than 1,800 students over the past three years. To date, they have pulled out around 30,000 wilding conifer seedlings.


As part of this project, students will discover how they, and further generations, can protect the local environment. They will document and photograph their conifer removal efforts, working with experts to collect data and monitor vegetation change over time.


Findings will be shared with the local community, giving students the satisfaction that they are making a difference.


Keep an eye out for the project Facebook page, which will launch soon.


Funding: $20,000

Contact: Matt Leach (Queenstown Primary School)

2. Catlins’ bats on the map

  • Researching populations of long-tailed bats
  • Understanding ecosystem needs of long-tailed bats


Catlins residents of all ages will be encouraged to get involved in this project to survey the local population of long-tailed bats, just one of the endangered endemic species occurring in this area.


Project participants, from local schools to landowners, will learn how to survey for bats and discover when and where these bats actually fly. Inspector Insector from Earthlore Wildlife Gardens will also lead sessions to trap night-flying insects, which will provide more complete information on the ecosystem needs of this taoka species.


Catlins Bat Project volunteers, who complete annual bat surveys, will act as community champions for this project, alongside national bat experts. They will mentor student volunteers, who can themselves go on to mentor their peers, both locally and nationally. Forest and Bird South Otago and the Department of Conservation will also be involved.


Project highlights will include a bat camp for students of the Catlins Area and Tahakopa schools, as well as an evening of trapping in the summer, led by bat expert Ian Davidson-Watts. Students will go on to present their findings at the 2020 National Bat Conference, as well as locally.


Check out the project Facebook page to find out more.


Funding: $20,000

Contact: Catriona Gower (Forest and Bird NZ)

3. Healthy air for healthy lives

  • Distributing photonics-based air quality sensors
  • Monitoring air quality with regard to particulate pollution


This project will distribute and install optical particulate sensors to monitor atmospheric pollution. Each sensor package costs less than $100 and are run by an Arduino microcontroller kit.


It is a partnership with schools and local community groups, coordinated by the Dodd-Walls Centre (a national Centre of Research excellence) and the Department of Physics, University of Otago.


The involvement of a large network of groups will ensure the collection of data across a comprehensive suite of sample sites and help paint a full picture of particulate air pollution in this region. Data will be used to identify particulate size and distribution, and map how this changes over time. It will also be compared with World Health Organization guidelines on recommended air quality measures. This will enable local risk factors to be assessed and potentially mitigated or avoided.


The project will also involve Enviroschools and Southern Photonics Limited.


To keep up-to-date with the project, visit the Dodd-Walls Centre website.


Funding: $20,000

Contact: David Hutchinson (Dodd-Walls Centre, University of Otago)

4. 2020 vision for schoolchildren by 2020

  • Developing a vision screening tool to use in classrooms
  • Discovering barriers to accessing and using glasses


Studies suggest visual deficits can have a negative impact on a range of learning outcomes, including poor grades, classroom behaviour, and even disengaging completely from school. As academic achievement is one of the most powerful predictors of lifelong health, addressing factors that contribute to poor school function may be critical to resolving health disparities. However, we lack a clear understanding of how to address the logistical and social barriers to accessing and using corrective lenses.


In 2018, a small pilot project discovered that around 20% of children in a secondary school had uncorrected vision. It also learned that parents didn’t follow up on vision screening results, even when given vouchers for an optometrist.


This follow-up project aims to develop a screening tool that can be used in classrooms. Students at Tahuna Intermediate will be taught to check each other’s vision and will practise this during science classes. They will be actively involved in designing the screening tool to ensure it is easy to use. The tool will then be validated by testing a random sample of children with a gold standard optometry assessment.


A key aim of the project is to discover what encourages or discourages, assists or hinders parents to take their children for vision screening and pay for glasses, if required.


Experts at the School of Occupational Therapy at Otago Polytechnic and the School of Medicine at the University of Otago will guide and assist students during the project.


To follow their progress, check out the project lead’s blog.


Funding: $18,500

Contact: Mary Butler (School of Occupational Therapy, Otago Polytechnic)

5. Examining stream health in South and West Otago

  • Analysing the physical, chemical and biological components of local streams
  • Exploring how stream health can be improved


Water quality is coming under increasing spotlight in New Zealand. The Otago Regional Council has highlighted the South and West Otago areas as having some of the poorer water quality in Otago. Catchment groups working in this area have highlighted the need to help community members better understand what lives in the area’s streams and to encourage students to think in a sustainable manner about the impacts of their own land use on stream health, and the wider environment.


Throughout this project, the NZ Landcare Trust, along with catchment group members, University of Otago and Otago Regional Council staff, will work with students from up to 10 schools, their teachers and parents to help raise awareness of the state of water quality in some of the streams in South and West Otago.


Communities will be taught to assess the health of local streams using physical, chemical and biological indicators. The project will also help to introduce ecological systems to schoolchildren, by investigating what lives in the streams of the area, and the conditions necessary for these aquatic animals’ survival.


A key aim of the project is to encourage communities to appreciate the value of protecting water quality and to explore ways in which stream health in the area can be improved.

A number of stream assessments will be carried out, followed by an environmental hui to share project outcomes.


Check out the NZ Landcare Trust website and Facebook page, as well as the Facebook pages of the Pomahaka Water Care Group and Otago South River Care, to find out more.


Funding: $20,000

Contact: Craig Simpson (NZ Landcare Trust)

6. Shark spy – Monitoring Otago sharks

  • Exploring the abundance and demographics of Otago’s shark populations
  • Encouraging citizen scientists to report shark sightings and egg cases


Currently, there is a lack of data about the captivating and enigmatic shark species inhabiting coastal ecosystems around New Zealand. However, previous research has indicated that numerous species frequent the diverse coastal waters around Dunedin.


Unfortunately, the lack of basic demographic information on many species limits conservation, management and policy initiatives. By involving the wider community in data collection, this project will learn about local shark populations, teaching school groups and the local community about what can be found in their own ‘backyards’.


Baited remote underwater videos (BRUVs) at set locations around the Otago coastline will act as dedicated surveys for local shark populations, providing information about species diversity and seasonal abundance of sharks and their prey species. Surveys for shark egg cases on local beaches around the region will provide information about seasonality of reproductive behaviour for some species. Divers, surfers, fishers, boat users, and the wider community will also be encouraged to use a photo system to report opportunistic encounters with sharks.


Survey boat trips will be carried out monthly until April 2020, alongside community talks, events and training workshops.


To find out more, check out the NZ Marine Studies Centre’s website, or follow them on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Instagram.


Funding: $19,974

Contact: Sally Carson (NZ Marine Studies Centre)

7. Nebulised antibiotics – Residue and resistance: Phase 1

  • Assessing risks associated with disposal of antibiotic residue from nebulisers used by the CF (cystic fibrosis) community


Cystic Fibrosis Otago will work with University of Otago researchers to investigate how people with CF are cleaning antibiotic residue from their nebulisers and how this might be impacting antibiotic resistance.


Antibiotic resistance is a serious and growing health problem around the world. If bacteria are exposed to antibiotics, but not killed, they can mutate into antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Infections caused by these bacteria are much harder to treat and can result in long stays in hospital and increased mortality.


People with CF often use antibiotics inhaled through a nebuliser to prevent and treat bacterial lung infections. There is concern amongst the CF community that rinsing residual antibiotic solution from nebulisers down the sink or into rubbish bins may lead to pockets of antibiotic resistance in the local environment. As the use of inhaled antibiotics is a mainstay of CF respiratory infection management, antibiotic resistance would have a significant impact on the consequences of infection.


This project will survey how people with CF are disposing of antibiotic residue from their nebulisers, measure the volume of antibiotic residue in different nebuliser systems, and measure the concentration of that antibiotic residue in wash buckets.


Findings will be shared through newsletters, social media, community meetings and media releases, with the opportunity provided to consider feasibility of a pilot project to measure disposal channel impacts.


To follow the project, check out the Cystic Fibrosis NZ Facebook page.


Funding: $10,000

Contact: Julian Cox (Cystic Fibrosis Otago)

8. Ko Te Kawakawa me kā Kaikawakawa

  • Investigating the traditional and current uses and methods of preparation of kawakawa in Rongoa Māori
  • Investigating whether kaikawakawa moth herbivory affects the efficacy of kawakawa as Rongoa Māori


Kawakawa (Macropiper excelsum) is an important medicinal plant in traditional Rongoā Māori (medicine). Mātauranga Māori states that the potency of the kawakawa leaves increases with the amount of browsing (herbivory) from kaikawakawa, (Cleora scriptaria, kawakawa looper moth).


While the kawakawa plant itself grows around Dunedin in frost-free warm micro-climates, kaikawakawa does not reach this far south, leaving the local kawakawa leaves uneaten.


As part of this project, tamariki from Te Kura Kaupapa Māori o Ōtepoti will set up a greenhouse experiment to test if kaikawakawa herbivory has a direct effect on medicinal properties in the kawakawa leaf.


They will research the different traditional uses and preparation methods of kawakawa, under the direction and guidance of TKKM o Ōtepoti staff and Dr Barbara Anderson. This will include literature research, surveys and interviews with kaumātua, whānau, iwi and the wider community.


Tamariki will use these data to produce a research report, which will itself become the basis of an experimental protocol design to test how the kawakawa is affected by kaikawakawa herbivory.


For more information, check out Ahi Pepe MothNet on Facebook and Twitter.


Funding: $20,000

Contact: Marcia Cassidy (Te Kura Kaupapa Māori o Ōtepoti) or Dr Barbara Anderson (Ahi Pepe MothNet)

9. Down the drain – Citizen science in Wanaka

  • Mitigating the effects of storm water on Lake Wanaka’s water quality
  • Using restoration science, monitoring and education


In 2017, students from Wanaka Primary School and Mount Aspiring College teamed up with Wanaka Lake Swimmers Club, the Ruby Swim and Touchstone to complete a water quality monitoring project in Roys Bay, Lake Wanaka. Their results showed that storm water from three major drains affects the water quality of the lake.


This year, the team will work with new partners to develop strategies to mitigate the effects of storm water run-off on water quality and recreational swimming in Lake Wanaka.


A wide array of organisations are involved in the project, including the University of Otago, Otago Regional Council, Aspiring Environmental, Queenstown Lakes District Council and the Wanaka Community Board.


Findings will be presented at a public meeting in 2019, with other events and activities announced throughout the project.


For more information, visit Touchstone’s website or Facebook page.


Funding: $17,363

Contact: Chris Arbuckle (Aspiring Environmental Ltd.)

10. Ka Hao te Rakatahi

  • Monitoring tuna (eels)
  • Comparing capture methods of fyke nets and hīnaki


One of the key objectives of Te Nohoaka o Tukiauau/Sinclair Wetlands is to restore Ngāi Tahu as kaitiaki over the area. The vision is that Kāi Tahu Whānui will re-learn the practices and language associated with mahika kai. Through this project, Kāi Tahu rakatahi will learn skills to monitor tuna numbers. They will compare the use of hīnaki and fyke nets as capture methods and gain an understanding of wetlands ecology, tuna lifecycle and habitat.


A wānanga was held in July 2018, to review existing research and knowledge of traditional fishing methods, followed by a second wānanga covering hīnaki building techniques. Rakatahi worked with freshwater ecologists from the University of Otago to sample tuna each month, from September 2018 to April 2019. They collected data on tuna numbers and ages, and will compare it to data from earlier studies at Te Nohoaka o Tukiauau.


Cultural experts from Te Rūnanga o Ōtākou and He Waka Kōtuia will ensure that kaupapa Māori and mātauraka Māori are embedded in the design and execution of the project.


The findings from this study will be shared with Te Rūnanga o Ōtākou and the wider community through workshops and presentations. Rakatahi will also create works of Māori performing arts, such as waiata and kapa haka, to ensure the knowledge is retained and shared.


Find out more about Te Nohoaka o Tukiauau/Sinclair Wetlands on their website.


Funding: $20,000

Contact: Paulette Tamati-Elliffe (Te Nohoaka o Tukiauau/Sinclair Wetlands)

11. Source to sea catchment planning

  • Monitoring the health of specific catchments
  • Examining the impacts of land management practices


Students and staff at three primary schools – Purakaunui, Waitati and Warrington – will work with experts from Landscape Connections Trust, Kati Huirapa ki Puketeraki and the University of Otago on this project. Each school will monitor a stream with headwaters originating in forested areas, affected by various land uses and exiting into an estuary. Their ‘patch’ will be a familiar area and a key component of the community’s sense of place.


Instead of focusing on a single issue, this project will address land use, water quality and biodiversity conservation. This will lead to a community-led approach to catchment planning.


Students will examine how agricultural and urban land management practices can affect water quality and native biodiversity. They will also be encouraged to think critically as they evaluate vegetation types and topographical features.


Findings will be reported by the students via local newsletters and at community events.


To find out more, check out the Beyond Orokonui website or Facebook page.


Funding: $20,000

Contact: Rhys Millar (Landscape Connections Trust)

12. Wakatipu snow study

  • Investigating the variability of the Wakatipu snow resource
  • Examining the implications of this for Queenstown’s community and economy


The Queenstown community will monitor the snow line and seasonal snow cover in the Wakatipu Basin. High school students and community members will photograph and recorded the elevation of the snow line on a daily basis over the winter season. Data will be compared to historical findings and photographs of these mountains.


Snow line readings will be supplemented with regular field trips to measure snow depth and density at selected transects on the mountains. To capture an indicator of snow melt, streamflow from a selected catchment will be measured and compared with river flow data from the Shotover River.


Satellite images and weather observations taken from Queenstown International Airport, MetService and other sources will complement the field data.


Funding: $19,100
Contact: AJ Mason (Innovation Queenstown)