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Antibiotics, bats and kawakawa: new Otago projects launch

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Eight new community-led research projects in Otago have just been funded through the Participatory Science Platform, with topics ranging from air pollution to rongoā Māori (medicine).

The latest batch of projects have a strong health and environmental focus, from researching antibiotic resistance in Cystic Fibrosis nebulisers to investigating the impact of wilding pines on Queenstown's natural treasures.

"The quality of the proposals has increased each round, and this year was no different," says Craig Grant at Otago Museum, the programme coordinator for the Otago Participatory Science Platform (PSP).

"From investigating new in-school tests to help identify visual impairment to comparing the medicinal potency and delectability to moths of South Island versus North Island kawakawa leaves, the projects truly span the full spectrum of research endeavours. 

"It was also great to welcome some South Otago focused projects into the PSP portfolio. With one new project investigating water quality along the mighty Clutha, and another delving deep into the forests of the Catlins to track the elusive long-tailed bat, our southern schools and communities are in for a busy and exciting year of hands-on science."

The projects have been awarded up to $20,000 to help them investigate and solve local problems and community-identified issues over the next 12 months.

Otago is one of three regions where the PSP programme is operating, and this is the sixth round of funding since it launched in 2015.

The Participatory Science Platform is part of the Curious Minds suite of programmes and invests in innovative projects that encourage communities to embrace science and technology. The funded projects allow locals to work alongside scientists and technology experts on questions or problems that are relevant to them and have enduring educational value.

Photo credit: Queenstown Primary School.

Project details

Shark Spy, Monitoring Otago Sharks. 
New Zealand Marine Studies Centre (University of Otago) are exploring the abundance and demographics of shark populations local to the Otago region. Monthly boat trips to sampling sites in Otago Harbour and the adjacent coastline and utilising baited remote underwater videos (BRUVs) will help assess local shark populations. Fishers, divers and ocean recreational users will be taught how to use apps to record sightings of sharks and presence of egg cases.

Nebulised Antibiotics – Residue and Resistance: Phase 1.
Cystic Fibrosis Otago, with Cystic Fibrosis New Zealand and University of Otago researchers will investigate how people with Cystic Fibrosis (CF) are cleaning antibiotic residue from their nebulisers and how this might be impacting on antibiotic resistance. 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.

Catlins’ Bats on the Map.
Forest & Bird South Otago Branch and Catlins Bat Project volunteers, together with Earthlore, bat scientists, DOC, Catlins Area School, and Tahakopa School are discovering where Long-tailed bats fly and forage in the region and matching the locations of bats to habitat and invertebrates present. Highlights will include a bat camp for schools and a community bat trapping evening in the summer, when they hope to discover more about the local bat population.

2020 vision for schoolchildren by 2020.
There is a high prevalence of visual impairment in schoolchildren so Mary Butler (School of Occupational Therapy, Otago Polytechnic) and Tahuna Intermediate will trial a new approach to visual testing in schools. They will investigate which visual testing methods are preferred, how vision screening by school students compares with gold standard optometry testing, key ethical and practical issues to consider with co-screening, and what will encourage kids to follow through with vision correction.

Examining Stream Health in South West Otago.
NZ Landcare Trust, along with catchment group members, Otago University and Otago Regional Council staff will work with students from up to 10 schools, their teachers and parents in South and West Otago - where poor water quality tends to be an issue - to assess and help raise awareness of how to check stream health and what local activites can affect it.

Healthy Air for Healthy Lives.
Dodd-Walls Centre and partners will work with Otago primary and secondary schools to distribute and install cheap, optical sensors and monitor atmospheric pollution. The aim is to collect a comprehensive data picture about local particulate air pollution (the size and distribution of tiny airborne particles) and map how this changes over time. The data will be compared with World Health Organization guidelines for air quality and used to identify local risk factors and what needs to change.

Ko Te Kawakawa me kā Kaikawakawa.
Te Kura Kaupapa Māori o Ōtepoti staff and students and Dr Barbara Anderson will investigate whether the kaikawakawa (kawakawa looper moth) eating kawakawa leaves increases the medicinal properties of the kawakawa leaf, which is used in rongoā Māori (Māori medicine).  The team will also investigate traditional and current uses and methods of preparation of kawakawa in rongoā.

Ecosystem Restoration.
Queenstown Primary School and partners will monitor three key sites in the Wakatipu Basin to objectively monitor vegetation change over time, with a focus on wilding pines. They will gather evidence around the part that they can play in controlling wilding pines and improving for future generations.

More information is on the Otago PSP's Science into Action website

Scientists and locals collaborating around a table

Participatory Science Platform

Supports collaborative projects that bring together communities and scientists or technologists on research investigating a locally-important question or problem.

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