#Citizenscience tour #3: Nelson for #freshwater #biodiversity, #biosecurity, #BioBlitz!

Testing different EColi testing kits – which will be best for community use?

We began our third citizen science projects tour at Nelson City Council (NCC), attending the Biodiversity Forum meeting. No matter how sophisticated our technology may be for communication, nothing beats sitting down together face to face, looking, listening and learning.

Many of those present at last year’s working meeting in Nelson were participating in the Forum meeting – representatives from community groups and agencies discussing projects underway and progress on the regional biodiversity strategy. Alastair and I presented a snapshot of the NZ Landcare Trust’s citizen science project before moving on with a small group of people continue the tour.

Eradicating the Great White Butterfly

Kerry Brown (Dept. of Conservation/DOC) outlined the world’s first eradication of an invasive butterfly. The Great White Butterfly was first spotted in May 2010 and the threat to our 79 native cress species  (e.g., Cook’s scurvy grass) recognised as well as threats to fodder crops. However, eradications didn’t start until December 2012, with DOC taking over from the Ministry of Primary Industries (MPI) to lead the project. One reason for the delay was the development of a hand-held data capture system that didn’t adequately mesh data, analysis and reporting needs. Critical to project success was setting up an effective monitoring and spatial data management programme that enabled maps to quickly be produced that showed the areas to be targeted.

Kerry’s simple advice to avoid unnecessary delay:

‘Don’t go for sexy, go for something that will work, that’s pragmatic and practical’.

Deemed feasible for ground-based control, effective eradication relied on engaging the public through a targeted awareness-raising, education and action campaign. Both methods and audiences were broad: schools (to participate in the holiday hunt); the general public (e.g., Nelson Farmer’s Market) as well as specialist groups (e.g., Nelson Beekeepers Assn.). Media releases, e-newsletters and social media (e.g., a project Facebook page) and an 0800 phoneline staffed by MPI were used. The campaigns were structured to avoid saturation but increase at strategic times when practical action from the public was needed most.

Bounty hunters

A novel approach included a generous bounty of $10 per great white butterfly captured over a 2-week period (a one-off event). A total of 133 great whites were caught, with over 300 individuals and groups involved, and a further 3135 ordinary white butterflies were caught (hope turning to disappointment for their captors….). This form of citizen science is contributory, with data largely crowdsourced. Out of necessity, the project was agency-led due to the infrastructure needed, and the capacity for monitoring design, data management, analysis and reporting.

Spotting whitebait

Crossing the Maitai River which start in surrounding hills and runs through the centre of the city, we stopped to have a quick hunt for whitebait eggs amongst tall fescue rhizomes. Friends of the Maitai community environmental group periodically monitor the site for eggs – it’s a matter of getting your eye in as the eggs are the size of the tip of a ballpoint pen. The Whitebait Connection project – which I was privileged to experience at the Mountains to the Sea Conservation Trust Wananga the weekend before, has developed a whole education and action programme around our endangered but highly prized native fish.

Searching for whitebait eggs among the tall fescue bordering the Maitai River

Testing EColi testing kits

Next stop was the Maitai River – one of four sites the Friends of the Maitai (FOM) monitors on a monthly basis. SHMAK equipment from a NIWA study is used that was given to the group as part of a study to compare data collected by volunteers with professionals. One of the sites chosen is also monitored by Nelson City Council to ensure alignment between datasets. FOM measures air and water temperature, clarity, nitrates, phosphates conductivity, dissolved oxygen, pH and sediment loading. Sedimentation e.g., from forestry and urban development can have disastrous long-term consequences for native fish (and other in-stream dwellers) as we learned on the Auckland citizen science tour.

NIWA sediment testing resource: a visual guide for a simple 5-min loading test

FOM has taken water quality monitoring one step further. Volunteer Philippa Eberlein is testing kits used to measure EColi levels in waterways so that community groups can select the best kit for their needs. Accuracy, ease of use and cost are all factors. The study is supported by NCC ecologist Paul Fisher who provides technical advice to the group – another example of a partnerships approach that underpins many citizen science projects.

Two 2 of the plates trialed to grow E.coli bacteria colonies. Dark purple growth is E.coli and the others are coliform.

Restoration planting

We then travelled further up the Maitai river to the Groom creek tributary where FOM have planted c. 4000 native species as part of a sizeable restoration currently in progress. A 4-5ha area adjacent will be reconstructed by NCC as a wetland – with the creek diverted in the 1950s, the original wetland dried out. This project will be a first for the region due to the scale and design that incorporates ponded areas and boardwalks.

Friends of the Maitai River planting on a tributary close to what will be a major wetland restoration

Running mini BioBlitzes

The last stop was Brook Waimarama Sanctuary where Rick Field (Project Coordinator) discussed the mini BioBlitzes that took place last year (prior to the 14km predator-proof fence being completed in Sept 2017). Around 60 people took part in the low-key 24hr event (staff/professional collected the night-time specimens) designed to be a baseline study for the site before eventual pest eradication. NatureWatch NZ/iNaturalist provided the data management platform. Larger BioBlitzes are planned biennially at the sanctuary, using an environmental personality to raise publicity for the event.

Rick has also carried out mini-blitzes at schools to raise awareness among students of the diversity that can be found in small, modified and urban areas. In 2008 the Sanctuary has also spearheaded a monthly backyard bird count for Nelsonians (based on the Landcare Research-led project of the same name). The aim here is to gauge the spill over effects of the Sanctuary – will local residents see increases e.g., in kaka, bellbirds and falcons…? The programme, currently run by a volunteer needs reinvigorating – originally 60-80 data sets were entered monthly but numbers have been dropping. Keeping volunteers motivated has been another common theme throughout working group meetings and will no doubt feature in the Dunedin #citsci tour…

Brook Waimarama Sanctuary calls for volunteers: track cutters, fence checkers, pest detection…

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