Science Blog – future research

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Kia ora kotou,

Time for a further update on research in the Upper Clutha. Previous science blogs have covered historic and current research in our catchment area. This blog takes a brief look at some of the future research needed to help manage our region’s freshwater and environmental health for future generations.

Ash Rabel - WAI Wānaka's Science Coordinator
Ash Rabel, WAI Wānaka’s Science Co-ordinator
Aerial view of part of lake Wānaka with simple catchment map showing the research area of the Upper Clutha catchment
To best understand the major knowledge gaps and what future research could and should focus on, check out the Community Catchment Plan. Between the Actions and the Literature Review, there are more areas identified than can be covered in this blog. Some quick highlights are:
Newly created walkway and boardwalk along the shore of lake Wānaka.

Understanding the impact of regional growth

We need more research to understand the impact of our growing urban centres and land use changes on the health of the lakes and rivers in the region. Aotearoa New Zealand has been a bit behind in this realm. Check out Lakes 380, NIWA’s work in Lake Modelling, and LERNZ (Lake Ecosystem Research New Zealand). It is worth noting, that none of these studies are specific to our deep alpine lakes and their catchment areas.

Comprehensive modelling of our lakes is a key piece of future work. Fortunately (see previous blog) we’ve been able to engage NIWA and start this work in Roys Bay as part of the Wānaka Water Project. This still leaves the rest of Lake Wānaka and all of Lake Hāwea to be addressed.

The power to make accurate and powerful management decisions increases greatly with access to the understanding these models would bring.

Here’s a sneak-peak of some results from the first round of NIWA’s drifter deployments from June 2022. The coloured dotted lines indicate the path of the drifters over time as they spent a few days in the lake during some classic Wānaka Nor’westers (wind direction and intensity illustrated at the bottom right). While hypnotic to watch, this is just one deployment period for the Roys Bay study, with more deployments under different conditions to come. This project is being undertaken by NIWA funded by WAI Wānaka’s Wānaka Water Project.


Biosecurity concerns are plaguing our lakes. It is therefore critically important that more research goes into understanding the invasive plants and species in the local waterways. You may have seen the “sludge” (Lindavia) that washed up on the shores of Eely point and other areas around the lake shore recently? It is imperative that we understand the impacts these invasive pests are having on both our lake ecosystems and the infrastructure we rely on to live in this region.

If you’re interested in biosecurity and want to learn more about the biggest challenges our lakes and rivers are facing, visit the ORC Pest Hub and read about Lindavia and Lagarosiphon, amongst others.

Future research needed to learn how to avoid Lindavia patches like this floating on the surface of lake Wānaka
Patch of Lindavia on the surface of the lake during the warmer months of the year.

Aquatic Biodiversity

The issue closest to my heart (being a biologist) is investigating our aquatic biodiversity and how to best look after it. Previous blogs have touched on two amazing fish species that call this region home. However, there are many more organisms living in our freshwater, most of which are even less understood than tuna and Clutha flathead galaxias. This is particularly true for the microscopic organisms that play an essential role in ecosystem function. Check out L. Schallenberg’s dissertation, or explore Wilderlab’s eDNA data for this region. Failing to understand and look after these organisms may have many unseen consequences for environmental functions locally and globally.

eDNA 'Wheel of life' by WILDERLAB
‘Wheel of life’ graphic showing species found in eDNA samples from a waterway. Image by Wilderlab.

Check out this video, explaining what eDNA or environmental DNA is.

the more we know,
the better we can do

While research and where things ‘could and should’ go might not seem like much of a big deal – especially when it’s initially quite academic – the adage “knowledge is power” stands true. The more we know, the better we can do! Thanks for taking the time to read this quick dive into future research directions. If you are interested in further understanding the science and research needs of our region, check out our Community Catchment Plan and follow WAI Wānaka.

Kia pai tō koutou rā.

Ngā mihi,

Ash Rabel

High lake levels at lake Wānaka flooded the jetty and recent storms deposited piles of lagarosiphon onto  the lakeshore.
Kea, fantail and gecko. Native biodiversity can only thrive if do the research and clean up our act.

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