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. Shark Spy 2 – extending the monitoring range to North and South Otago

  • Exploring the abundance and demographics of shark populations along the full range of the Otago coastline
  • Encouraging citizen scientists to report shark sightings and egg cases


The waters of coastal Otago are highly productive and are used by numerous predatory animals including multiple shark species. Unfortunately, the lack of basic demographic information on many species limits conservation, management and policy initiatives.


Shark Spy 2 builds on the original Shark Spy PSP project (funded in 2019) to expand the monitoring range from just Dunedin waters to the length of the Otago coast. New communities and schools in North and South Otago will be engaged in the project and encouraged to report shark sightings and do shark egg case surveys at local beaches.


Boat trips using baited remote underwater videos (BRUVs) at set locations around the Otago coastline will act as dedicated surveys for local shark populations. New pelagic BRUV cameras will be added to the surveys, which will provide information about species diversity and seasonal abundance of sharks and their prey species.


Scientists from the NZ Marine Studies Centre will collaborate with schools and water user community groups such as diving clubs, fishing clubs and boat clubs along the Otago coast. School classes will be involved in collecting and analysing the BRUV survey footage.


To find out more, check out the NZ Marine Studies Centre’s website, or follow the Shark Spy project on FacebookTwitter, or the marine studies centre’s Instagram. You can report shark sightings to the Shark Spy iNaturalist site. 


Funding: $19,935

Contact: Sally Carson (NZ Marine Studies Centre) or email 

2. Soil Your Undies Otago – biological indicators of soil biology health and the role of earthworms and dung beetles as ecosystem engineers

  • Making field observations of soils using earthworms, dung beetles and cotton digestion in rural East and North Otago to understand more about our soil health 
  • Providing a framework to future proof the value of soils for communities and a pathway to improve ecosystem functioning 
  • Creating a soil map of the area 


North Otago Sustainable Land Management Group  in collaboration with East Otago Catchment Group will work alongside local schools, science and industry partners to answer the question – What can earthworms and undies tell us about our soil health? 


Currently there is no single methodology for determining soil health, but levels of pasture earthworms are seen as a potential biological indicator of the level of soil health. The breakdown of cotton-based products in soils is also seen as a measure of levels of microbiological soil activity and hence soil health. 


This project will distribute earthworm sampling kits and undies to participating schools and community groups. These citizen scientists will be asked to bury underwear in specific locations soobservations can be made on biological activity under different soil types and management. The undies will be dug up two months later and the abundance and type of earthworm recorded against a key and uploaded to a digital platform.Students will also investigate historical land use at the study sites to understand the links between soil health and commercial and community activity.  


Understanding the levels of soil health will help provide a framework to future proof the value of these soils for their communities and the crucial role they play in food production, plant growth, nutrient cycling, water quality and carbon sequestration.  


A field day is planned involving all participants so they can share their resultsBy mid-2021 the data gathered should build a comprehensive picture of the state of soil health across the North East Otago landscape. 


To find out more, follow North Otago Sustainable Land Management (NOSLaM) and the East Otago Catchment Group on Facebook. 


Funding: $19,999
Contact: Bridget McNally (North Otago Sustainable Land Management Group Incorporated) 

3. Science, Art, and Education – visualising the impact of climate change 

  • Producing a 3Dmodel and visual presentation of the local effects of climate change on the Queensland Lake District 
  • Designing a social experiment to investigate whether the 3D-model approach to presenting climate data raises public awareness more effectively than traditional communication 


While most people are aware of the global trend in temperatures, the impacts of climate change on local regions seem too distant to warrant any immediate action.  


To galvanise action, Dustan High School and Bodeker Scientific are collaborating to present climate change information to the general public in an accessible and engaging way. They hope this will encourage people to question how climate change is affecting them where they live and how it is likely to do so in the future.  


The team intend to build a system for projecting different types of climate data, under different greenhouse gas emissions scenarios, onto a 3D-printed topography of the Queenstown Lakes District (QLD). This will be a visible and engaging way of displaying the local effects of climate change on the region.   


The team will also design and undertake a social experiment in their region using the students and teachers from local schools. The experiment will test whether this ‘hands-on’ approach to presenting climate data increases the awareness of the local community in a more impactful and meaningful way than traditional means of communicating climate data.   


Bodeker Scientific and Dunstan High School hope the results will inform science communicators and help them more effectively inform the public of the local impacts of climate change. The system will be designed so it can be easily adapted to other regions and displayed at local museums or organised events, thereby increasing the awareness of climate change nationwide. 


Follow this research on the Bodeker Scientificand Dunstan High School Facebook pages. 


Funding: $19,786
Contact: Dr Ethan Dale (Bodeker Scientific)

4. Kei heangākākā - where are the kākā and are they safe?

  • Engaging the community in the research and conservatioof kākā  
  • Finding out where kākā are travelling to and living when they leave Orokonui  
  • Working out the key risks to kākā outside Orokonui 


Orokonui Ecosanctuary is a fenced sanctuary which is home to a variety of threatened indigenous species, including South Island kākā (Nestor meridionalis). This nationally vulnerable endemic parrot was first reintroduced to the ecosanctuary in 2008. 


Although some pairs have bred successfully, the current population observed is only known to be around 40 birds (from 41 reintroduced and 53 fledged), indicating kākā are choosing to leave the sanctuary to live in the surrounding habitat, where they face different threats 


The local community surrounding Orokonui are eager to know how they can protect kākā and make the surrounding  habitat more suitable. With their supportOrokonui Sanctuary aims to find out where kākā are going, why they are going to particular locations, whether their new homes are safe – and how we can make them safer and more attractive. 


This community collaboration includes an online kākā database which allows members of the public to quickly and easily report kākā sightings, including time, date and location, leg band sequences and behaviour. The database will be a crucial tool in collecting information that could inform risk management and strategies to improve the kākā habitat. 


A University of Otago masters research project will track a sample of kākā using GPS and VHF tracking technology to determine their dispersal and habitat preferences. The expertise and some of the data from this research will be used to enhance the community project.  


The outcomes of this research will inform and empower the community to become involved in kākā conservation, enabling them to carry out effective habitat restoration and ensuring positive kākā and human interactions throughout the Otago region.  


To find out more, follow this project on Orokonui Ecosanctuary’s social media: FacebookTwitter and Instagram. A Kei heangakākā Facebook page will also be created. 


Funding: $20,000
Contact: Taylor Davies-Colley (Orokonui Ecosanctuary) 

5. Red-billed Gulls – love them or lose them 

  • Increasing public awareness and understanding about red-billed gulls
  • Involving the wider community in caring for and gathering data that can help inform management of the species 


Red-billed gulls, Tarapunga (Larus novaehollandiae scopulinus), are regarded as a pest by many Otago locals, despite the fact that these birds have recently been designated as a threatened speciesdue to a steady decline in numbers at their largest breeding colonies.  


In order to improve how people interact with these gulls, Otago Peninsula Trust, and the Royal Albatross Centre, will collaborate with schools and communities along the Otago coast to gather data on what attracts red-billed gulls to an area, as well as where they breed and why.  


Schools and community interest groups (e.g. boat clubs) along the Otago coastline will be involved in collecting observations on gull behaviour and nest locations, and carrying out simple experiments to identify factors that influence their behaviour.  


Students will be challenged to come up with environmental action projects based on their observations (e.g. design of bird proof rubbish bins, interpretive signage asking people not to feed the birds, eating lunch at different locations or times). 


Finding answers to these questions will help increase public awareness and understanding about these birds, inform management plans and potentially reduce negative interactions between gulls and peoplby enticing them to breed in alternate locations. 


To keep up-to-date with the project, visit the Otago Peninsula Trust and Royal Albatross Centre websites. 


Funding: $19,928
Contact: Robyn McDonald (Otago Peninsula Trust) 

6. Why do some rat traps catch more rats? 

  • Investigating what the most effective and efficient trapping guidelines are for Otago 
  • Establishing field surveys, trap lines and analysing trap data 
  • Developing a model of trap success  


In New Zealand we have hundreds of community groups trapping rats and other predators to increase survival rates of native birds and protect native vegetation. 


Almost all trappers want to know why some rat traps catch more rats than others. Currently we don’t have reliable knowledge on micro-habitat influences on trapping successes – the best places to put traps to optimise catch-rates.  


This project is a collaboration between the Central Otago Lakes Branch of Forest & Bird (COLB)an experienced local community trapping group with a large trap-catch data set over a long time, and students and staff from the Wildlife Management Programme at the University of Otago. Teachers and students from local schools in Wanaka and Makarora will also be involved in setting up and monitoring their own traplines and collecting and analysing the data. 


This project will survey the local environments around a set of 400 traps at Makarora and try to develop a trap success model by identifying which factors influence trap success by. The model will explore a list of variables such as, vegetation type and height, presence or absence of some plant species, aspect, distance from water, roughness of the ground, proximity to tracks or pasture and – over time – weather, bait types and seasonality. 


The aim of this project is to generate trap placement guidelines that trappers can use in the field. When we know what local environmental factors influenced catch rates, we can put our traps in the best places to catch more rats, and save more birds, bats and lizards! 


To find out more about the project, visit the Central Otago Lakes Branch of Forest & Bird (COLB) web page. 


Funding: $18,581
Contact: Ben Goddard (Central Otago Lakes Branch of Forest & Bird) 

7. Examining the effectiveness of stream enhancement in South West Otago

  • Building on a 2019 project to investigate if riparian planting and management will improve steam health indicators
  • Schools will work with local catchment groups to ‘adopt-a-stream’


This project will build upon the PSP funded 2019 project ‘Examining Stream Health in South West Otago’  in which students were introduced to scientific techniques to assess stream health and were encouraged to explore ways stream health could be improved.


In this new project eight schools will collaborate with their local catchment groups to enhance the habitat of their local stream through riparian planting and management. Schools will assess how their local ‘adopted’ stream responds to enhancement work, by using the stream health assessment techniques previously learnt.


The project will involve NZ Landcare Trust, Tuapeka/Waitahuna Catchment Group, Waiwera Catchment Group and Pomahaka Water Care Group and scientists from Department of Conservation and Otago Regional Council  working with students, their teachers and parents to help improve the state of water quality in some of the streams in South and West Otago.


Following a community hui and wetland planting day, the project will involve multiple stream planting and assessment days with each school. The schools will build on the scientific techniques learnt in the previous project and the students will share their results with the community at catchment field days.


A key aim of the project is to facilitate schools and catchment groups working together to build a sustainable relationship that can ensure long-term improvements of the health of the waterways in their areas.


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: $19,023

Contact: Craig Simpson (NZ Landcare Trust)

8. 2020 Vision for schoolchildren, phase 2

  • Developing a vision science module to introduce vision testing to classrooms
  • Investigating how to overcome barriers to accessing and using glasses


Building on the successful co-development of a peer vision screening test in their 2019 PSP project, students from Tahuna Intermediate are once again teaming up with scientists from the School of Occupational Therapy at Otago Polytechnic to develop a vision science module.


Studies suggest visual deficits can have a negative impact on a range of learning outcomes. Vision science is not part of the school curriculum but undetected visual deficits can have a major impact on children’s learning.


The aim of co-developing the vision science module is so that children learn about concepts of investigative science through vision science activities and about notions of fair testing and statistics by collecting and analysing data from a vision screening exercise.


One of the aims of creating and using this module is to overcome the stigma and difficulties associated with wearing spectacles. Alongside this, the team will continue to investigate 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: $18,346

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

9. Nebulised antibiotics – residue and resistance, phase 2

  • Co-develop a practical nebuliser cleaning strategy that would help reduce the risks of antibiotic resistance due to the variable disposal practices identified in Phase 1  

In Phase 1 Cystic Fibrosis Otago worked with University of Otago researchers to develop an assay that could detect residual levels of tobramycin, the most commonly used antibiotic by Otago-based people with cystic fibrosis. This assay was able to detect the concentration of the antibiotic residue in the wash buckets following cleaning of the nebuliser system.


Phase 1 also involved both a regional and national survey that identified the variable methods that people with cystic fibrosis use to dispose antibiotic residue from their nebulisers.


People with cystic fibrosis often use antibiotics inhaled through a nebuliser to prevent and treat bacterial lung infections. Antibiotic resistance is a serious and growing health problem, there is concern amongst the cystic fibrosis community that rinsing residual antibiotic solution from nebulisers down the sink may contribute to this problem.


In Phase 2 the cystic fibrosis community and scientists from the university will co-develop a practical nebuliser cleaning strategy that would help reduce the risks in the variable disposal practices identified in Phase 1.


The team will then develop dissemination resources for these strategies and share the results nationally, as well as with the wider public to help build awareness of the importance of 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.


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


Funding: $10,000

Contact: Julian Cox (Cystic Fibrosis Otago)

10. 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)

11. 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 is run by an Arduino microcontroller kit.


The project 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)


12. Ko Te Kawakawa me kā Kaikawakawa

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


13. 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)

14. Source to sea catchment planning, phase 2

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


This second phase of the Source to Sea project will see an expansion to include more schools, who will work with experts from Landscape Connections Trust, Kati Huirapa ki Puketeraki and the University of Otago to monitor a stream with headwaters originating in forested areas, affected by various land uses and exiting into an estuary. All seven schools will collect data and feed it in to a central database which the community can access.


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: $15,660

Contact: Rhys Millar (Landscape Connections Trust)