Current Projects

The Participatory Science Platform Otago Pilot currently funds 11 community-driven projects.


Read on to learn how local schools, community groups, rūnaka and the wider public are working with experts on a range of projects across Otago. Follow their progress, discover how they are making a difference, and see how you can get involved.

1. Shedding Light on the Night: Nocturnal Biodiversity in the Otago Region

  • Collecting and sharing data on moths and other nocturnal pollinators in Otago
  • Investigating if artificial light affects these pollinators


Relatively little is known about Lepidoptera in Otago, despite the fact that they are critical pollinators and a food source for wider ecosystems. How many moths are there in Otago? Where are they found? What species do they represent? Are they affected by artificial light, and, if so, how? To answer some of these questions, schools and communities across the region have teamed up with Orokonui Ecosanctuary and scientists from Landcare Research and the University of Otago.


Data is uploaded to the MothNet project page on NatureWatchNZ, where anyone can add observations. The team have created user-friendly guides to make this as easy as possible. Getting communities, and especially kids, excited about moths is a key goal. Scientists will work with kids to support their interest in ecology and entomology, act as mentors and encourage them to get amongst it.


Check out the MothNet website, follow them on Twitter, like them on Facebook or join their Facebook group. Get involved by adding your own observations to the MothNet project on NatureWatchNZ.


Funding received: $20,000
Contact: Barbara Anderson (Landcare Research)

2. Sediment and Seashores: What are the Consequences?

  • Investigating the impact of dredging in Otago Harbour on rocky intertidal species and habitats
  • Establishing marine surveys and analysing data


By December 2016 the shipping channel entering Port Chalmers will have been extended to a depth of 14 metres. To make the channel accessible for larger shipping containers, 7.2 million cubic metres of sand are being dredged from Otago Harbour and dumped offshore.


Marine scientists are working with schools and local groups to set up monitoring sites, collect data and photograph marine communities in the area. Over time this will show any changes to the species and habitats after the dredging or any related cloudiness in the water column. The information will be analysed and uploaded by scientists in collaboration with those doing the collecting. Participants are encouraged to think about the value of their data and come up with ways to refine or redesign the monitoring processes going forward. This may lead to the establishment of long-term monitoring sites, which can be integrated into local schools’ science teaching.


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


Funding received: $20,000
Contact: Sally Carson (Department of Marine Sciences, University of Otago)

3. Tracking Pukekura Blue Penguins

  • Learning more about the little blue penguin colony at Pilots Beach on the Otago Peninsula
  • Using observations and RFID data to inform husbandry plans for the colony


Not much is known about the structure of the colony of little blue penguins nesting at Pilots Beach on the Otago Peninsula. The most recent official research is around 20 years old, creating a knowledge gap this project hopes to fill. By compiling accurate data based on a combination of observational data from the last three years, empirical data from RFID chipping, anecdotal evidence and public observations from the viewing platform, the project will determine how many pairs nest in this spot, their breeding success rates and more.


Practical uses of this data include the creation or modification of husbandry or species management strategies. It will also be used to benefit kaitiakitaka – the guardianship, protection and conservation of the colony.


Funding received: $20,000
Contact: Hoani Langsbury (Pukekura Trust/Otago Peninsula Trust)

4. Helping Tomahawk Lagoon Community Look After their Own Backyard

  • Establishing a Tomahawk Lagoon health team to survey water quality and report back to the community
  • Developing a robust database to write an accessible and meaningful environmental report card for this ecosystem


Tomahawk Lagoon is a popular recreational spot and home to a variety of fish and birds, but it frequently develops toxin-producing cyanobacteria algal blooms. Relatively little is known about the health of the lagoon, and the only water quality checks currently taking place are visual algal bloom inspections by the Otago Regional Council.


Over a 12-month period, the newly-established Tomahawk Lagoon health team will survey the water quality of the upper (northern) part of the lagoon. They will monitor the physical, chemical and biological aspects of this important ecosystem and use their findings to see how healthy the lagoon is. Students and teachers from three local schools – Tahuna Normal Intermediate, Bayfield High School and John McGlashan 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. They will set up a system of data collection, develop strong community partnerships and report findings back to the wider Tomahawk community.


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


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

5. 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 project will investigate the best location for a public viewing platform and monitor local light pollution and street light locations. Baseline data will be used to advise the Central Otago District Council as they work to minimise light pollution and roll out LED street lighting. It will also feed into a community-wide attempt to achieve international dark skies accreditation.


Community members and the area school will be involved in workshops and training sessions in conjunction with the Dunedin Astronomical Society, who are a key partner in the project.


Follow the progress of the project on the Naseby community Facebook page.


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

6. The Conservation of the Great Crested Grebe

  • Investigating great crested grebe nest failures at Roys Bay Marina, Wanaka
  • Using data to improve the design and attachment of artificial nest sites


Extinct in the North Island and with only 600 birds surviving in the South Island, the native great crested grebe is rare and threatened. To improve its chances of survival, artificial nesting sites were set up at Roys Bay Marina on Lake Wanaka in 2013. Since then more than 118 chicks have been born in the area.


Video cameras focusing on individual nest sites will provide time-lapse footage that will be used to study bird movements, courtship, egg laying, incubation spans and hatchings. It is hoped that the data will provide insight into factors that may lead to nest failures, and how artificial nests might be improved to increase the chances of success. Birds nesting naturally at Lake Hayes will be used as a baseline population for comparison. Experts will then be able to compare incubation spans in artificial versus natural environments. Local school kids are invited to adopt specific nest sites and monitor their chosen birds. They’ll also have on-demand access to information and footage from the project.


Funding received: $17,980
Contact: John Darby (Braidwood Trust)

7. Shining a Light on Our Environment

  • Developing a low-cost kit for water quality monitoring and biodiversity conservation
  • Bringing students, local groups and experts together to test the efficiency of the kit


An increase in intensive farming and irrigation in the Waitaki District runs the risk of impacting water quality in a negative way, affecting recreation, cultural practices, biodiversity and conservation efforts.


Members of the Lower Waitaki River Management Society (LWRMS), students from St Kevin’s College and Papakaio School, and spectrometry experts from the University of Otago will work together to monitor water quality in the area using the Public Lab Kit. This small, affordable kit is available online for US$45 and is used by citizen scientists to detect water contaminants. When the group determines how accurate the kit is, they will use it as the basis for a prototype water-testing kit they will develop specifically for local community use.


Funding received: $14,679
Contact: Max Crowe (Lower Waitaki River Management Society)

8. Living Rooms – Heat and Moisture in North East Valley Homes

  • Collecting and sharing data on heating patterns, temperatures and moisture in homes
  • Investigating how homes can be warm and dry at an affordable price


Current heating and humidity upgrade strategies – insulating the ceiling, underfloor and walls, reducing draughts, installing double glazing – are based on the assumption that houses are being heated constantly. Dunedin-based research shows that this is only true for 5% of the houses surveyed. That means standard upgrade plans may not be useful for the vast majority of homes in the area, and invites questions about the most effective ways to control moisture in buildings, and reduce building fabric degradation and mouldy odours.


The project team have developed open source wireless Indoor Weather Stations in collaboration with the Dunedin Makerspace. Project participants are using these to capture time series observations of heating patterns, temperature and moisture in a key room of their house. This data is being analysed by scientists in collaboration with the people doing the collecting. A website enables participants to find out about the thermal performance of their home, and target their home performance upgrades and heating and ventilation practices accordingly. Students from Dunedin North Intermediate are making observations of several home models and their classroom, and learning psychrometry – the science of moist air.


Find out more about the project, request an indoor weather station and get involved on the Valley Community Workspace website and Facebook page.


Funding received: $19,750
Contact: Tim Bishop (Valley Community Workspace Inc.)

9. How Safe is My Cat? A Community Assessment of the Safety of Domestic Cats in Pest Control Project Areas

  • Discovering where domestic cats go, what they do and how safe they are around pest traps
  • Using information collected to inform pest management locally and nationally


Domestic cats roam far and wide, with their travels taking them through areas frequented by pests. Traps are often set for these pests, but how do they affect pets? That’s the central question of this project, which focuses on twelve pet cats owned by kids from four local schools. The cats’ movements are tracked using GPS and video cameras, providing a picture of their range and activity.


The kids will also help out with other parts of the project – from collecting information to communicating the findings. Data from the project may be able to help local and national efforts to catch pests, not pets.


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

10.  Monitoring and Control of Codling Moth in Central Otago

  • Researching codling moth and leafroller infestations in the Wanaka area
  • Investigating the effectiveness of pest control methods


Codling moth and leafroller larvae eat their way into pip-fruit to the seeds. This damages the fruit and leaves tell-tale holes filled with frass (the excrement/debris produced by the caterpillar). The codling moth problem is becoming more widespread in Wanaka and the surrounding area, where it has been difficult to control this pest. Home gardeners and local orchardists are experiencing a rise in infestation levels, with over 80% of fruit on trees showing codling moth damage.


Wanaka Primary School pupils will work with staff at the Plant and Food Research station in Clyde to trap these pests and monitor when and where infestations are occurring in the Wanaka area. They will use the information they collect to determine which of the pest control methods being used elsewhere are best suited to their situation, and customise these methods to be effective in and around Wanaka. Students will also use timed searches and traps on selected plants to study the composition of the leafroller species and discover what species are found in which habitat at specific times of the year.


Funding received: $8,194
Contact: Sharon Pendlebury (Wanaka Primary School)

11.  Lighting the Way for Visually Impaired Persons (VIPs)

  • Investigating the amount of light VIPs need to function and avoid injury
  • Finding solutions for any lighting deficits identified


Members of the low vision community can underestimate how much light they need in order to get around and do things safely. This project connects members of the Visual Impairment Charitable Trust Aotearoa (VICTA) with Otago Polytechnic’s School of Occupational Therapy to look into how much light is needed by those with low vision.


The project has four phases aiming for very tangible results (the first two phases will be carried out in 2016). In Phase One, the project will be introduced to community groups like Age Concern and VICTA; light level needs of a small group of participants will be tested in Phase Two. Phases Three and Four will be focused on finding solutions and developing products to help VIPs navigate their environments safely and successfully.


Funding received: $15,777
Contact: Mary Butler (Otago Polytechnic and Visual Impairment Charitable Trust Aotearoa (NZ))