Funding welcome but ‘very limited’

Otago freshwater scientists have welcomed the announcement of government funding for research on the great southern lakes but say it does not go far enough.

Last week, the Ministry for Business, Innovation and Employment announced its 2017 Endeavour Fund grants, through which 68 new scientific projects will receive $250million in total over the next five years.

One of the successful proposals was a $1.15 million-dollar "smart idea" bid by Landcare Research to develop a "lake snow toolbox" to determine the causes of the slime produced by the introduced algae Lindavia intermedia.

The Institute of Geological and Nuclear Sciences (GNS) gained a $13.8 million research grant for Lakes380, a five-year research project to study the environmental history of 10%  of all  New Zealand lakes.

In the same week, the Ministry for the Environment Freshwater Improvement Fund announced a $385,000 grant for a Lake Wanaka and Upper Clutha community water management plan.

University of Otago freshwater scientist and Catchments Otago director Prof Gerry Closs said it was "heartening" to see some research funding being directed to the great southern lakes but "given the size and importance of the South Island lakes, it was very limited".

He said the funds would allow some serious research to be conducted on Lake Wanaka and Lake Wakatipu but most aspects of the ecology of the other alpine lakes would remain largely unstudied.

"The lakes are of international significance but their management is fragmented across under-resourced regional councils," Prof Closs said.

"To their credit, those councils are beginning to address questions such as long-term monitoring, trends in water quality, and catchment management, but there is a long way to go before we could claim to have a reasonable understanding of the conditions and water-quality trends in the lakes," he said.

University of Otago freshwater scientist Dr Marc Schallenberg worked on the lake snow toolbox bid with lead author Landcare researcher Dr Phil Novis and will be one of the nine scientists working with Niwa on the collaborative project.

He said the funding for the toolbox was "absolutely good news", as we needed to develop the tools to measure and monitor lake snow properly, but there was still a need for research into the "ecology" of lake snow.

"For me, the key question is ‘what is lake snow doing to the functioning of our lakes?’

"It will be causing some major ecological impacts and changes but so far we haven’t been able to get any funding to look at that."

Landcare researcher Dr Novis said the MBIE funding for lakes research was "very gratifying" and "needed, in my opinion".

He  expected the lake snow toolbox  project to have gathered data on three lakes at the end of three years.

Both MBIE-funded projects begin at the start of next month.

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