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Underpants, kākā and art: 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 science art to wildlife protection.

The latest batch of projects have a strong environmental focus, including monitoring soil and stream health as well as the safety of our native birds.

“Once again, the Otago Participatory Science Platform Panel and Board were very impressed by the quality of applications received,” says Dr. Claire Concannon at Otago Museum, the programme coordinator for the Otago Participatory Science Platform (PSP).

"From using 3D models to communicate about local climate change impacts, to investigating soil health through burying underpants, this round of projects covers some diverse and interesting research topics.

“This round also sees a good geographic spread of projects - communities across Otago will be involved in answering different research questions important to them. Projects are in the planning phase now and will be ready to start activities when it is safe to do so."

The projects have been awarded up to $20,000 each 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 seventh 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: Source to Sea.

Project details

Shark Spy 2, Extending the monitoring range to North and South Otago
Expanding on the success of the original Shark Spy project, New Zealand Marine Studies Centre (University of Otago) are exploring the abundance and demographics of shark populations along the length of the Otago coastline. Scientists and schools will collaborate to collect and analyse video data on local shark populations. Through workshops and talks, ocean going community groups will be encouraged to use apps to record sightings of sharks and the presence of egg cases.

Soil Your Undies Otago: biological indicators of soil biology health and the role of earthworms and dung beetles as ecosystem engineers
This project, led by North Otago Sustainable Land Management Group in collaboration with East Otago Catchment Group, local schools, scientists and industry partners, will investigate soil health in rural East and North Otago. Filed observations of soil using biological indicators (earthworms, dung beetles and cotton digestion) will be used to assess soil health and create a soil map of the area.

2020 Vision Phase 2
Having successfully co-designed and trialled peer vision screening as part of the original Vision 2020 project, Phase 2 will develop this into a vision screening module that can be used in schools, as well as further investigate barriers and bridges to vision correction in children once issues are identified. Scientists from School of Occupational Therapy, Otago Polytechnic) and teachers and students from Tahuna Intermediate will co-develop the new learning module which aims to make vision science and screening part of the science and health curricula in Dunedin schools.

Science, Art & Education – Visualising the impact of climate change
Bodeker Scientific and Dunstan High School will collaborate to develop a 3-Dimensional model of the Queenstown Lakes District on to which climate scenarios can be projected upon. The team will then work together to investigate how this 3-dimensional visualisation of the impacts of climate change influences the public understanding of the local effects of climate change.

Kei hea ngā kākā - Where are the kākā and are they safe?
Kākā have a large home range and frequently leave Orokonui Ecosantuary to use the surrounding habitat. The community surrounding Orokonui are eager to know how they can protect kākā and make the surrounding habitat more suitable. This local collaboration will involve ecosanctuary scientists, schools, community groups and landowners assessing the habitat around Orokonui, carrying out kākā risk assessments, and identifying banded birds and registering sightings, with the aim of informing a more informed kākā risk management and habitat restoration plan.

Red billed gulls – love them or lose them
Although they are commonly encountered, red billed gulls have recently been designated as a threatened species due to a steady decline in numbers at their largest breeding colonies. Otago Peninsula Trust, along with the Royal Albatross Centre, will collaborate with schools and communities along the Otago coast to gather data on where the red billed gulls nest and what attracts them to areas, to help inform management plans. The project also aims to increase public awareness and understanding about red billed gulls.

Examining the effectiveness of stream enhancement in South West Otago
Scientists from NZ Landcare Trust, along with catchment group members, Department of Conservation and Otago Regional Council staff will work with students from up to 8 schools, their teachers and parents in South and West Otago to investigate if planting improves the health of their local streams.

Why do some rat traps catch more rats?
The Central Otago Lakes Branch of Forest & Bird and local community trapping partners want to investigate the question of what the most effective and efficient trapping guidelines are for their region. To do this they will work with scientist from the University of Otago as well as teachers and students from local schools in Wanaka and Makarora to establish field surveys, trap lines and to analyse trap data.

More information is on the Otago PSP 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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