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. What are we swimming in? Citizen science in Wanaka

  • Understanding what affects water quality in Roy’s Bay, Lake Wanaka
  • Developing a water quality monitoring plan for the lake


Over the past few years, swimmers have noticed some changes in Lake Wanaka, including the presence of invasive jelly-like algae called ‘lake snow’. The community is now trying to answer the following key questions: What are the threats to the swimming experience in the lake? What environmental conditions raise concern for swimming? What can the community do about it?


Students from Wanaka Primary School and Mount Aspiring College are teaming up with Wanaka Lake Swimmers Club, the Ruby Swim and Touchstone to back up anecdotal observations with scientific measures. They are working with researchers from University of Otago, Otago Regional Council and Aspiring Environmental.


Following a workshop with specialists, the team will design a protocol for swimmers to collect data, as well as a survey of drains flowing into the bay. They will look at the quality of both storm and standing water, with local school children monitoring these outflows.


The project’s rigorous study design and objective scientific measures will test and validate the community’s concerns and observations, using accredited scientific laboratories. In doing so, they aim to enhance the local community and swimmers’ understanding of the lake’s water quality.


The project runs until December, when the findings will be presented at a public meeting.


For more information on this project and others aimed at protecting Lake Wanaka, visit Touchstone’s website.


Funding: $18,204
Contact: Chris Arbuckle (Aspiring Environmental Ltd.)

2. Sugar in your diet – kino te pai!

  • Designing science experiments to measure the effects of sugar on kids’ teeth and general health
  • Improving oral hygiene and healthy eating knowledge


Do tamariki and their whānau know how much sugar is in fizzy drinks and processed foods? Are they aware of the impact sugar can have on teeth and general health?


These questions and more are being explored by the children and families from Te Kura Kaupapa Māori o Ōtepoti together with researchers from the Faculty of Dentistry and Department of Human Nutrition at the University of Otago.


Each month, tamariki will work with experts to create experiments that explore the effects of sugar on our bodies, and on teeth in particular. They’ll also examine the amount of sugar in their food and drink. Their oral health will be examined at the beginning and end of the project.


Throughout the project, the students and their families will learn more about oral hygiene, teeth brushing and healthy eating choices.


Tamariki and their whānau will receive regular newsletters and reports during the project, and a community hui will be held in November to discuss the findings.


Related Resources


Funding: $13,700
Contact: Carolina Loch (Sir John Walsh Research Institute, University of Otago)

3. The Valley Urban Ecosanctuary

  • Creating an urban ecosanctuary for native bird species in the North East Valley
  • Developing strategies to attract native species and control predators


The reintroduction of native species like the kaka is the long-term aim of this project covering the North East Valley, Opoho and Pine Hill areas of North Dunedin.


The first step is to find out which native species already inhabit the area. Kids from North East Valley Normal School, Opoho School, Dunedin North Intermediate and Islington Street Early Childhood Centre are getting involved in data collection and will upload their findings to NatureWatch NZ.


They’ll design a bird feeder design that encourages native species into the valley and come up with a plan to protect these species from predators.


This project is being driven by the Valley Project, Orokonui Ecosanctuary and experts from the University of Otago, with lots of opportunities for community members to get involved.


Check out the Valley Project Facebook page for upcoming events or progress updates.


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

4. Flip the Fleet: accelerating electric vehicle uptake in Otago

  • Creating a communal database about electric vehicle performance
  • Measuring and comparing electric vehicle performance, benefits and battery function over time


At what rate do electric vehicle batteries lose their ability to hold a charge, and how far can they travel before this happens? How much does a plug-in hybrid vehicle use its electric engine versus its petrol engine?


Members of the electric vehicle community are working with experts to design experiments which will help to answer these questions. Electric vehicle usage data – travel, charging, efficiency, cost and battery life – will be gathered and used  by Ecosystems Consultants and PowerStats to create an Electric Vehicle (EV) Dashboard, a communal database for Flip the Fleet.


Electric vehicle owners and operators across Otago upload their data each month, making it easier to compare vehicles throughout the region. Participants also fill out regular ‘1-click surveys’, answering questions about the limitations and possibilities of electric vehicle use.


Groups and institutions around Otago are getting involved in this drive to accelerate the uptake of electric vehicles across the region. These include Otago Chamber of Commerce and the Otago Museum.


The EV Dashboard is due for release this winter, and will run until November when a meeting will be held to review the results and translate them into recommendations for Otago businesses and policymakers.


Visit the Flip the Fleet website to find out how you can get involved, or follow their progress on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.


Funding: $20,000
Contact: Emeritus Professor Henrik Moller (Ecosystems Consultants)

5. Biodiversity Monitoring on Quarantine Island/Kamau Taurua

  • Measuring how predator control affects biodiversity on Quarantine Island
  • Investigating the effectiveness of predator traps


Community members and scientists are joining forces to monitor moths, skinks, birds and seedlings on Quarantine Island/Kamau Taurua, where predator controls have been in place since 2016. They will use their findings to analyse biodiversity health on the island.


Groups who are often marginalised from scientific investigation are being invited to join in, and subsidies for ferry transfers and accommodation are available. Interviews will be used to capture personal responses to the project and resources will be developed to encourage ongoing community participation.


Get involved in monitoring at one of the monthly Community Open Days or talk to the group about other opportunities. Join the Quarantine Island Community Facebook page, or subscribe to their email newsletter to keep in the loop.


Funding: $13,500
Contact: Kristen Bracey (Quarantine Island/Kamau Taurua Community)

6. 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 last year’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)

7. Sediment and Seashores – Looking Deeper

  • Assessing the structure and health of rocky reef habitats in Otago Harbour
  • Developing a new method to quantify sedimentation in the harbour


Students from primary schools around Dunedin are working with scientists to monitor important rocky reef habitats along the shores of Otago Harbour.


This follows on from the 2016 project Sediments and Seashores – What are the consequences? It saw students and community groups work with scientists to set up monitoring sites, collect data and photograph marine communities in the area.


Their long-term aim is to understand the impact of dredging of 7.2 million cubic metres of sand from Otago Harbour to extend the shipping channel entering Port Chalmers to a depth of 14 metres. Baseline information is needed to quantify how sediment deposition, sediment cover and the composition of rocky reef communities change over the duration of the dredging project. In 2017, students will help develop a new technique to quantify the rate of sediment deposition and come up with a process to document community changes in relation to sediment cover and build-up.


To find out more or get involved, visit the Marine Metre Squared website, follow them on Twitter or like their Facebook page.


Funding: $19,728
Contact: Sally Carson (Department of Marine Sciences, University of Otago)

8. Pukekura Blue Penguins – Matauranga and Mathematics

  • Completing the RFID tagging of little blue penguins at Pukekura (Pilot’s Beach, Otago Peninsula) and installing an antenna to track penguin movements
  • Replacing burrows with tamper-proof nest boxes


The 2016 Tracking Pukekura Penguins project saw around 50% of the little blue penguin (Eudyptula minor) population in the area tagged with RFID chips. Participants surveyed nest sites and designed a ‘tamper proof nest box, of which 50 were constructed. This contributed to the 96 breeding attempts recorded in the 2016/17 season, with nine of the pairs laying a second clutch of eggs after successfully fledging chicks.


This year the project is being extended to tag the remaining penguins at the Pukekura reserve. Burrows will be replaced by the new nest boxes and an antenna will be installed to help track the movement of the penguins over time.


Empirical data will be combined with intergenerational observation to create a more complete picture of the little blue penguin colony at Pukekura. This mix of indigenous thinking and scientific analysis will be used to develop the management plan for the penguin population.


Funding: $19,880
Contact: Hoani Langsbury (Pukekura Trust/Otago Peninsula Trust)

9. Helping Tomahawk Lagoon Community Look After their Own Backyard: the upper and lower Tomahawk lagoons

  • Continuing to survey Tomahawk Lagoon water quality and report back to the community
  • Developing an area-specific water quality monitoring kit


The Tomahawk Lagoon health team continue to survey the water quality of the upper part of the lagoon and, this year, are extending their efforts to the lower lagoon. They are also working to develop an area-specific water quality monitoring kit, which could be used by other community groups in the future.


As part of the project, students and teachers from local schools – Tahuna Normal Intermediate, Bayfield High School, John McGlashan CollegeOtago Girls’ High School and Columba College – have joined forces with community members from ECOTAGO/OCEMES and water quality experts from the University of Otago, the Department of Conservation, Otago Regional Council and Otago Fish and Game.


Towards the end of the year, participants will invite the local community to a 1-day symposium at which they will present their findings.


Keep up with the progress of this project by liking their Facebook page.


Funding: $20,000
Contact: Andrew Innes (ECOTAGO)

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)

11. Naseby Dark Skies

  • Investigating the optimal location for a night sky viewing platform
  • Monitoring light pollution and street lighting


Naseby – with its low level street lighting, generally clear skies and proximity to the Otago Rail Trail – is ideally located to take advantage of the growing popularity of night sky tourism.


The aim of this project is to find the best location for a public viewing platform, while also monitoring local light pollution and street light locations. Baseline data is used to advise the Central Otago District Council as they work to minimise light pollution and roll out LED street lighting. This also feeds into a community-wide attempt to achieve international dark skies accreditation.


Local school kids and community members have gotten involved in workshops and training sessions given by the Dunedin Astronomical Society, who are a key partner in the project. Naseby Vision held a very successful stargazing event during Easter for both locals and holidaymakers, and planning is underway for a ‘star party’. The project team will also be working on a submission to the International Dark-Sky Association to gain international accreditation for Naseby as a dark skies area.


To follow dark skies efforts in Naseby, check out the community Facebook page.


Funding: $8,750
Contact: John Crawford (Naseby Vision Incorporated)