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Locals getting to grips with lake “snow” of a different kind

19 October 2018

The Wanaka swimming community has come together on another Touchstone citizen science project to further share information about water quality in Lake Wanaka.

Funding is enabling the group to examine patterns of lake snow around Ruby Island, which is a popular swim route. The project also aims to incorporate this work into a wider description of the recreational and ecological state of the lake around Ruby Island.

“Earlier this year, we trialled some simple sampling methods to help our understanding of the prevalence of lake snow while swimming around Ruby Island,” project mentor Chris Arbuckle said.

Regular lake swimmer, Marjorie Cook, said, “We are excited to now receive just shy of $10,000 from the Otago Regional Council to support our interest in lake snow and how it effects our swimming. It’s about understanding if there is a way of not ending up being covered in the stuff after a swim.”

Eddie Spearing of the Ruby Island Swim said this is the second citizen science project Touchstone has gained funding for this summer.

“Both projects are aimed at complementing our understanding of stuff directly affecting the values we hold for Lake Wanaka. Swimmers end up covered in lake snow sometimes, and it’s gross. After long swims we even see skin irritations, so this is all about figuring if we can change stuff we do to keep our swim experience fun,” he said.

The funding will be used for water quality sampling, ecological surveys and an information site, and will also include baby wipes that the Wanaka Lake Swimmers will use to swab their faces after a 2.5km swim around Ruby Island to sample lake snow.

“Now funding is confirmed we can involve even more locals in understanding lake snow. To date most of the “science” has been at arm’s length from community understanding. We are also looking at training other members of the local community to help test and analyse samples,” Mr Arbuckle said.

The six-month project will focus on four sites around Ruby Island, with the goal of tracking issues and finding patterns with lake snow and describing the creatures in the water around the island. It will also look at water colour, clarity and other measures like how much algae is present in that part of the lake over summer.

This project is cognisant of other science work on lake snow being carried out by the University of Otago and Landcare Research.

“We want to share all the information at hand, so the community can gain knowledge on lake water quality in their own back yard. This project will also add to a wider understanding on the ecology of our lake. Ultimately, this is about giving people a deeper understanding of water quality risks in Lake Wanaka, and what they can do to help mitigate future issues,” Mr Arbuckle said.

The project fits well with a bigger the Touchstone Project vision, which is to continue to boost community understanding of water quality issues facing Lake Wanaka. Touchstone also wants to enable a wider understanding of what influences our community values around the lake.


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