Current Projects

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

1. 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, Wanaka Community Board, and the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research.


The project runs from July 2018 to June 2019. 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.)

2. Electric vehicle battery health

  • Verifying corporate specifications of electric vehicle batteries
  • Testing the instrumentation used to estimate battery energy-holding capacity


Does overheating cause electric vehicle battery energy holding capacity and range to degrade at a faster rate than the manufacturers tell us?


That question is the central focus of Flip the Fleet, a coalition of over 1,000 electric vehicle owners that upload monthly statistics from their vehicles to a communal database.


Using these data, the team uncovered an apparent high rate of battery degradation in the relatively new (late 2015 onwards) ‘30 kWh Leaf’ EV model. Batteries are environmentally and financially costly to manufacture, and new battery replacements are not yet available in New Zealand.


In 2018, the team will check their findings, investigate what causes the suspected accelerated battery degradation, and recommend strategies to prolong battery life.


Thirty-two Nissan Leaf vehicles from around Otago will take part in this study, each one fitted with automatic data recording equipment. Each participant will receive an individualised battery charging plan, based on community experiments, monitoring results and instrumentation calibration tests. Other owners will complete ‘run-out’ tests where the batteries are run completely flat on a Cromwell racetrack to test whether the car’s instruments reliably report range and battery health.


This project is citizen science in action. Together, the community and experts will design strategies to prolong battery life and maximise the environmental benefits and return on investment in electric vehicles. They will gather valuable independent data for consumer protection and check corporate claims about electric vehicles, an exciting technology with huge potential to combat climate change.


Organisations involved in the project include the Otago Museum, Ecosystems Consultants, Otago Electric Vehicle Incorporated Society, Dunedin EV Owners Group, Zeno Networks, PowerStats and Exact IOT Ltd.


Visit the Flip the Fleet website, like their Facebook page or follow them on Twitter to find out how you can get involved.


Funding: $20,000

Contact: Emeritus Professor Henrik Moller (Ecosystems Consultants)

3. Investigating native plant-fungi symbiosis

  • Exploring the use of symbionts to aid native plant establishment and survival
  • Improving biodiversity in Central Otago’s indigenous woodland


What techniques can community members use at home, on farms and in parks to help native plants become established?


The Haehaeata Natural Heritage Trust and Mokihi Trust, in collaboration with the University of Otago’s Department of Botany, aim to answer this question. The team will design their experiments in July and August, before moving to field work in September and October. In 2019, they’ll spend February and March in the lab, before presenting their results in June.


Many native plants have associations with arbuscular mycorrhizal fungus (AMF), but very little is known about AMF associations with dryland native plants in Central Otago. If natives can be inoculated with AMF in a nursery, it may help their establishment and survival in revegetation sites. The scientific challenge for this project is to overcome the lack of existing information and protocols for AMF use in dryland native revegetation.


Newsletters and media releases will provide ongoing insight into the project. Interested community members will also have the opportunity to join field trips and workshops.


For more information on this project, check out the Clyde Railhead Community Eco Nursery website or Facebook page.


Funding: $19,960
Contact: Kevin Clark

4. 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 mahinga 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 will be held in August, to review existing research and knowledge of traditional fishing methods, followed by a second wānanga covering hīnaki building techniques. Rakatahi will work with freshwater ecologists from the University of Otago to sample tuna each month, from September 2018 to April 2019. They will collect data on tuna numbers and ages, and 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 through Māori performing arts, composing waiata 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)

5. Open Valley Urban Ecosanctuary (Open VUE) – Kapuka Taumahaka Whakamaurutanga

  • Observing birds, predators, lizards and invertebrates
  • Providing an education programme to schools and the community


North East Valley locals are the driving force behind the Open Valley Urban Ecosanctuary (Open VUE). This community-led initiative follows on from 2017’s The Valley Urban Ecosanctuary. It is spearheaded by the Valley Project in collaboration with Orokonui Ecosanctuary and the University of Otago.


Overall, the project aims to create a green corridor between the Dunedin Town belt and Orokonui and encourage native species back into the area. Creating a low-predator environment in which native species can thrive is an essential component of this work.


Open VUE brings together schools and community members to deliver a curriculum-based education programme. Students will learn how attract native birds and survey predators in their own backyards. A larger cohort of schools are now involved, with biodiversity topics also expanded to include lizards, invertebrates and long-term trends.


Workshops will be held at the mid and end-points of the project, with plenty of opportunities for the locals to get involved.


For all the latest, check out the Open VUE Facebook page.


Funding: $20,000
Contact: Eleanor Linscott (North East Valley resident)

6. If we build it, will peripatus come?

  • Assessing urban green spaces for invertebrate biodiversity
  • Developing information sheets to create suitable habitats for peripatus


Peripatus sounds like something from a fantasy story – an ancient velvet worm that emerges at night to shoot its invertebrate prey with poisonous spit before devouring them. But how widespread are peripatus across Dunedin, and could this mysterious velvet worm flourish in specifically created urban green spaces?


To answer these questions, students from three Dunedin primary schools – Green Island, St Francis Xavier and Abbotsford – will work with experts from Catchments Otago (University of Otago) and the Otago Museum. They will also investigate overall invertebrate biodiversity and compare their findings with their own school grounds, where they will work to create suitable habitats.


Students will develop flyers, supported by the researchers, which will be launched at events around International Biological Diversity Day in May 2019. These will focus on how to create invertebrate-friendly urban environments and how to help increase available habitats for peripatus in Dunedin.


To find out how you can get involved, check out the Catchments Otago website, like them on Facebook, or follow them on Twitter.


Funding: $20,000
Contact: Dr Cynthia Winkworth (University of Otago)

7. Predator control and biodiversity monitoring on Quarantine Island Kamau Taurua

  • Surveying birds and seedlings, monitoring skinks and using tracking tunnels
  • Utilising predator traps and recording carcasses


Experts, local schools and community groups will team up to continue the important work of 2017’s Biodiversity Monitoring on Quarantine Island Kamau Taurua project. Traps (A24s, snappy traps and DOC200s) were installed in 2016–17 to control rats and mice – the only known predators on the island. A motion sensor camera was set up by the A24 traps in early 2018, with data leading to trap-design modifications.


While the previous iteration of the project largely attracted younger participants, the team also hopes to bring older people, or those not normally involved in scientific studies, on board.


This study will make further use of motion sensor cameras and regular checks for predator carcasses to measure the efficacy of the traps. Different kinds of lure will also be tested in the tracking tunnels to see if this affects activity.


Surveys will be carried out monthly from September 2018 to April 2019 at the regularly scheduled Quarantine Island Kamau Taurua Community open days, and at other times to involve visiting groups. Participants will collect data on birds, skinks and seedling populations. This will allow for comparisons between the seasons and with last year’s data, helping to identify trends and anomalies.


Join the Quarantine Island Community Facebook page or subscribe to their email newsletter to find out more.


Funding: $15,042
Contact: Kristen Bracey (Quarantine Island Secretary)

8. Source to sea catchment planning

  • Moritoring 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 in June 2019.


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


Funding: $20,000
Contact: Rhys Millar (Landscape Connections Trust)

9. St Gerard’s Manuherikia catchment water quality monitoring

  • Assessing the water quality of the Manuherikia River and its tributaries
  • Helping students to utilise the Stream Health Monitoring and Assessment Kit (SHMAK)


How healthy is the Manuherikia River? Does this change at different times of year? What factors influence the health, good or bad, of this river and its tributaries.


Students from St Gerard’s School in Alexandra will use NIWA’s SHMAK to test flow, clarity, temperature, pH and conductivity, and will examine a sampling of macroinvertebrates in and around the river. The kit will help them to understand their results and what this means for the river’s water quality.


The 2017 project follows on from 2016’s successful Seed Project efforts which saw Year 8 students from St Gerard’s learn how to measure water quality at four spots (Alexandra, Becks, Galloway and Omakau).


Like the St Gerard’s School Facebook page for updates on the project.


Funding: $4,488
Contact: Ollie Yeoman (St Gerard’s School)

10. 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 record the elevation of the snow line on a daily basis over the winter season 2017. 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 (Catalyst Trust)