Summer research student joins team of experts to investigate algal blooms in Lake Taupō

Te Riria Potiki has spent the summer testing algal blooms in Lake Taupō.

04 Feb 2021

It is the dream summer job, allowing her to return home, be part of an important international research project, and gain valuable experience.

Te Riria, 19, had just completed her second year of a Bachelor of Environmental Planning when she applied for the summer research project in Taupō, the area where she is from.

Worried she may be out of her depth working alongside the team of experienced scientists, Te Riria has thrived. “They are all so nice and we all bring different skills to the table. I was quite daunted to start with but it’s been a good reminder that to be effective in tackling environmental challenges you need experts from both the sciences and social sciences to work together. You gain a lot from these sorts of hands-on experiences in each others’ worlds and I hope it’s something I can continue in my career.”

The project she is working on in Taupō is led by Professor Ian Hawes from the University of Waikato’s Tauranga campus. It is part of a collaboration with universities in the United States, and the Cawthron Institute.

Filamentous algal blooms in clean lakes is a problem all over the world, often referred to as ‘green bottom lake.’ “We are trying to find out what factors are contributing to this, as well as looking at seasonal changes, ”says Te Riria. “We are just trying to build that data up.”

As part of the study, they are investigating if groundwater entering the lake may be affecting the blooms and if this groundwater has high nitrate levels.

Te Riria’s work involves using an underwater drone every fortnight to collect algae images, at depths of eight metres, at the Whakaipo Bay, near Kinloch.

“So, we are looking at the cover and map of the algae and how that is changing as we go deeper and as it gets hotter over summer.”

She puts the data recorded on the drone into tables for scientists to study. They are also able to closely look at images.

The project started last December with a week of testing off a boat on Lake Taupō.  “I feel pretty lucky to be able to go out on the lake,” says Te Riria who attended Tauhara College in Taupō.

When she graduates Te Ririri would love to get a job in the area. “I am wanting to go anywhere in the environmental planning sphere. I would like to come back and work in Taupō which is why I was quite keen to learn more about what was happening with the lake.”

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