CitSci projects tour #2: destination Auckland… #BioBlitz, #citsci in schools, #community #ecologicalrestoration

Cicada Photo: Jon Sullivan, Flickr

Auckland Museum was the first stop on a day long tour of projects and activities all with a citizen science theme. Educators, community environmental group coordinators and members, education advisors and ecologists, from a cross section of agencies, organisations and trusts joined in. The Auckland tour was one of four currently underway around New Zealand – they are all part of the 3-yr NZ Landcare Trust Citizen Science project.

With eight presenters and 13 participants, in depth discussions flourished, so this is a lengthy blog. The main themes covered are:

  • BioBlitz
  • CitSci in schools, and
  • Community ecological restoration

BioBlitz: bringing science to the community

The day started with a session at Auckland Museum on running a Bioblitz. We were joined by Skye Collinson (BioBlitz Event Coordinator), Wilma Blom (Curator of Marine Invertebrates, Auckland Museum), Peter Buchanan (Fungi expert, Landcare Research) and Natalie Wilkinson (Enviro Education & Awareness Coordinator, Whau River Catchment Trust), each of whom has coordinated one or more Bioblitz events. Bioblitz started in New Zealand around in 2004, spearheaded by Peter who had begun to question the lack of interface between science and the public. After all, the public funds science research, so the public should also get to see what scientists do… spool ahead to 2017 and over 15 events have been held throughout the country, nine in Auckland alone. Each has differed slightly depending on the location, resourcing and event objectives. Some have run overnight, others as single day events only and some have even incorporated dance!

BioBlitz opens up the whole world – Skye Collinson

A strong numbers focus characterised early BioBlitz events – collecting and identifying as many species as possible. Though still important, objectives may now include identifying which species are absent from the site, which weeds and pests are present, and strengthening participant learning opportunities. For example, data collected at the Bioblitz in Kepa Bush (Auckland, March 2015) help inform the restoration plan for adjacent land (Pourewa, currently a pony club) that had been returned to Ngati Whatua Orakei.


A strategic relationship between Crown Research Institute Landcare Research (the original BioBlitz coordinators and promoters) and Auckland Museum in 2014 facilitated the development of an integrated education programme aimed at schools. This included visits to schools prior to the BioBlitz, so that students could participate more fully in the actual event. The programme is aligned to school curriculum areas such as ‘The nature of science’ where students learn what science is and how scientists work.

Waitemata Harbour, with the Whau River in the foreground. Photo: Phillip Capper CC via Wikimedia Commons

Community-led BioBlitz

One of the increasing number of community-led BioBlitz events took place along the shores of the Whau River (Auckland, July 2015). Natalie Wilkinson (Environmental Education & Awareness Coordinator, Whau River Catchment Trust) discussed how the funding only provided a 3-month window for organising and hosting the BioBlitz, resulting in a mid-winter event. The BioBlitz ran from 10am – 4pm, with the site was divided into habitats to explore (e.g., mangroves and mud, the butterfly haven and remnant forest). The aim was to use Naturewatch to upload data to, but WIFI issues on site meant the app could not be uploaded and few participants (despite Natalie’s encouragement) had done so prior to the event. Several schools attended as did two separate Chinese conservation groups, reflecting key changes in Auckland’s cultural make-up.

To assist groups wanting to carry out a BioBlitz, Landcare Research has created a number of resources. These can be found here.

Some learnings

  • There can be a lot of pre-event science activities e.g., setting traps for fish and insects well in advance to get a sense of what’s on site
  • Maximising school input requires a solid education programme to be run in advance
  • Volunteers are crucial, particularly for data entry to speed up reporting back to the community and council
  • Effective WIFI connection at Basecamp is vital
  • Leveraging off other events running simultaneously can diversify participation but also create competition for participants
  • Seasonal variation, weather, and the availability of experts on the day all influence the amount, diversity and type of specimens/data collected
  • Evaluating a BioBlitz can be a sizeable undertaking with specialist researchers needed to measure outcomes – here is an example from the UK
  • Noting absence is also important, e.g., not finding lizards/geckos in suitable habitat can signal the need for strengthening predator control

Future initiatives

The idea raised was to use a BioBlitz as a catalyst for getting people to put traps in their back yards by comparing managed ecosystems with unmanaged ecosystems. The stark differences between ecosystems could help raise awareness of habitat loss and degradation.

In 2016, Auckland Museum began to rethink the BioBlitz model where the Museum sits at the helm. The future will see the Museum supporting community-led BioBlitz events as well as seeking greater alignment with the Auckland Council Biodiversity Strategy and 20yr Plan as well as the Northwest Wildlink Project.

PS Put October 27-8 in your diaries… the next community-led BioBlitz will be at Whatipu, on Auckland’s rugged west coast.

CitSci in schools: students as designers, investigators and communicators

Takanini in South Auckland is in a flux with hundreds of new houses being built. Kauri Flats School is temporarily housed in what will become an early childhood centre. A kauri stump from a long-gone forest is perched in the carpark. The current role of 38 primary and intermediate will explode to 700 when the new school (being built nearby) is completed later in 2017.

In a traditional model, schools are often research subjects, but at Kauri Flats, the focus is on equality and recognition of the role as school as research partner. In the process, the emphasis is shifted to empower the students by growing their skills to become ‘agents of change’.

Kids come up with solutions we could never have anticipated – Nick Pattison

Facilitator Nick Pattison shares his student-centered learning approach

Expanding networks, fostering collaboration

Building partnerships between the school and industry, business, science providers, the local community, iwi is core business for Nick Pattison, Director of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) Education at the school. Weekly outings are part of the curriculum, notwithstanding increasingly restrictive Health and Safety requirements. The school is well set up with tech tools to foster learning, the emphasis being on tools to share and not individual devices for each student. They are being put to good use: students designed and 3D printed a simple device to help detect the presence/absence of kauri dieback disease (Phytophthora agathidicida). Another ambitious project is working with local iwi to reintroduce flounder to the Manukau Harbour – this will include a video game!

Chopped-up, used plastic milk containers will eventually be moulded into fence posts for the school’s new farm

Other current projects (narrated by students, Micky and Rushalia) include a collaboration with Fonterra to shred used milk containers and mould them into fence posts for the school’s ‘Our Future Farm’ project. Nuts and bolts for construction will be 3D printed on site and software will help the students visualise the farm before on ground works begin. Another project is to put sensors in bee hives to measure changes in sound and heat – the students want to investigate whether there are patterns and how these might reflect whether bees are happy, sad or angry. To get started, students attended a Bee Hui at Tangaroa College to understand the importance of bees and their need for protection.

Dust Busters

In an earlier citizen science project with Rongomai Primary and Manurewa High School, Nick’s students co-designed a study to test the types and amounts of mould in their own homes – many of which are older state houses. The project was only possible with students at the centre, leading the data collection, and NOT outside researchers – the health of your own home cuts directly through social, cultural, political and economic dimensions. The next stage, was to test for mites and allergens as these can provide a more accurate picture of home health. Among the multiple levels of learning, students also learned how to communicate the results – not surprisingly, the study generated much publicity.

Banded kokupu Photo: NIWA

Keeping up with the Kokupu

Travelling from South to North we met Dr. Kit Hustler, a biology teacher from Northcote College passionate about native fish. He has carried out extensive research with his students on banded kokupu (Galaxias fasciatus) populations and their behaviour in local streams. Research findings are both surprising and alarming. Using a suite of cheap, low tech approaches, Kit and students have mapped the streams and their pools, live captured fish, photographed and measured them before returning the fish to the water. Each fish has unique markings so individuals can be tracked over many years (Hustler, 2013).

As well as discovering that kokupu can jump for food on stream banks (Hustler, Whittington & Martin, 2015), they also found that the population has crashed – only a quarter of the fish remain from when research began in 2009. Pollutants flushed through stormwater systems into waterways and sediments clouding the water and filling critical habitat, are to blame. The latter comes from mud left on the road by contractors as well as ineffective sediment traps constructed during building works.

Changing behaviour

Kit has noted some major changes in behaviour among his students resulting from involvement in citizen science research. They’re ‘engaged and switched on’ and have a stronger awareness of environmental issues – students now really notice pollution in waterways and some have acted as spokespeople informing others of the issues and implications.

If I could get the boys to concentrate for 5 mins in the classroom, that would be amazing! But, they’re happy to sit and watch the fish [in the stream] for a hierarchy study, watching this fish chase that fish…. – Kit Hustler

Practical learning has had important outcomes: when research on rat populations yielded unexpected results, students were encouraged to think more critically, questioning whether the study design needed modifying or whether the equipment was flawed. Students have been issued challenges to design cheap, simple tools to help with stream studies using readily available materials and come up with novel results. Next, will be a project on our cryptic native geckos. Kit described students’ reactions to seeing and touching geckos (brought by a Dept. of Conservation staff member). They realised they knew next to nothing about geckos, enthralled with these creatures and very surprised that they could be present in local forest remnants.

Hustler, K. (2014). Individual identification and visual indicators of breeding condition of banded kōkopu (Galaxias fasciatus) in an urban New Zealand stream. New Zealand Journal of Marine and Freshwater Research48(1), 15-23.

Hustler, K., B. Whittington, and Z. Martin. A novel hunting method for banded kōkopu. New Zealand Journal of Zoology 42.4 (2015): 302-306.

Community ecological restoration

The day wrapped up at the Kaipatiki Project centre, on the margins of the ecologically significant Eskdale Bush Scenic Reserve on Auckland’s North Shore. The Kaipatiki area has a population of 90,000 and also includes 36km of coastline. The Project’s overall purpose is to help people live sustainably. Programme Manager Anna Halliwell showed us around the site and the nursery which provides eco-sourced plants for revegetation projects. They use permaculture principles, composting weeds on site where feasible,  striving to maintain the mauri (lifeforce) and wairua (nature; essence) of the sites they carry out their restoration work in.

The plant nursery area at the Kaipatiki Project with the ecologically significant Eskdale Reserve as the back drop

Pest-Free Kaipatiki

Project Manager Janet Cole outlined the vision and on ground works underpinning Pest-Free Kaipatiki. PFK currently includes 21 active reserve groups and forms part of a growing number of predator control initiatives that bring multiple groups within a geographical area (Predator Free Hamilton, Pest-Free Wellington, Pest-Free Otago Peninsula… another blog is brewing about these initiatives). As well as reducing plant, animal and disease pests to restore local biodiversity, there is a focus on community: raising awareness, public education and building connections between neighbourhoods. In keeping with Kaipatiki Project sustainability principles, non-chemical approaches will be used to manage and control pests. Ultimately, PFK will expand to include the many significant ecological areas that sit outside the reserves and are in private ownership.

Examples of pest animal bite marks on chew cards – coreflute filled with peanut butter Photo: NZ Landcare Trust


A component of the Pest-Free Kaipatiki project is flora and fauna monitoring, both operational and outcome. An extensive network of vegetation plots extends through the Eskdale Scenic Reserve along with many, many chew cards to gain a stronger understanding of which species are present. Bird counts have shown significant native birds but also high populations of exotic species – if there’s more food, there’s more for everyone. The monitoring programme has been set up with the help of ecologists from Auckland Council. Due to the technical nature e.g., of vegetation plot monitoring, council staff and students from Auckland University do most of the data collection, although skilled volunteers are also involved.

Growing volunteers, sustainably

One of the conundrums faced by the Project is developing income streams to maintain and grow the project but continue to access grants. Contracts are needed given the high level of uncertainty with contestable funding as a key source of project income. An important part of the project is connecting with volunteers of all ages. Objectives include growing volunteers’ skills base and providing them with leadership opportunities – someone who attends community planting days may in turn lead a planting day.

The BioBlitz conversations continue at the Auckland Museum…

Wrapping up…

This blog only covers a fraction of the questions, thoughts, debates and discussions that took place. It was also a day of networking – some hadn’t seen each other for quite a while, and other exchanged contact details. That’s a really important outcome: we’re growing a citizen science community through this project. Next up will be blogs from the Nelson and Dunedin Citizen Science Projects Tours. Watch this space!

4 responses to “CitSci projects tour #2: destination Auckland… #BioBlitz, #citsci in schools, #community #ecologicalrestoration

  1. Pingback: #Citizenscience tour #3: Nelson for #freshwater #biodiversity, #biosecurity, #BioBlitz! | monicalogues·

  2. Pingback: #Citizenscience tour #4: Dunedin for #monitoring #waterquality, #predatorcontrol efforts & #intertidal #biodiversity | monicalogues·

  3. Pingback: Running a successful #BioBlitz: selecting a great site, leveraging off partnerships, engaging the public, effective #scicomm … and great weather!   | monicalogues·

  4. Pingback: #ECSA2018 – BioBlitz evaluation workshop | monicalogues·

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