Scientists sign up to stun slime


Top scientists are floating a plan to tackle lake snot.

The question now is will the cash-rich Otago Regional Council, responsible for preserving the region’s lakes, chip in.

A high-powered summit of about 20 freshwater scientists and managers met in Dunedin on Tuesday to discuss lake snot.

Also known as lake snow, it’s the gooey mess that’s clogged fishing gear and water filters in Lake Wanaka for years but this year spread to Wakatipu and Hawea.

Otago University freshwater scientist Marc Schallenberg tells Mountain Scene one research idea put forward on Tuesday was to study where the goo occurs in Lake Wanaka. He says if the money can stretch, the study could also take in Lake Wakatipu.

“We decided that a really good way to try and begin to understand drivers of lake snow would be to actually study its distribution in the lake, both horizontally – in which bays it is versus the open lake – and also vertically in the water column.”

Information on variables such as nutrient concentrations, tempera-ture and zooplankton density would be collected to help understand it.

Scientists might well be rueing the fact this very idea was suggested, and rejected, years ago.

In 2012, Queenstown’s council rejected Schallenberg’s request for $46,000 to cover a one-year study into Wanaka’s goo problem.

Schallenberg: “If that study had been funded we would know a lot more about the drivers of lake snow today.”

Concerned scientists have experienced a series of funding strikeouts over lake snot.

At Tuesday’s meeting, council director Gavin Palmer said there wasn’t any extra funding for lake snot research this financial year.

However, it’s under pressure to change tack after Cromwell councillor Michael Laws said the council needs to make a significant financial investment in the Southern Lakes – and any delays will cause further headaches and hike costs.

The regional council has paid for snot-related science in the past.

In 2010, it provided a PhD scholarship ($150,000 over three years) to study the effect of land development on Lake Wanaka’s health. And in September this year it signed a $30,000 contract with Landcare Research to study the genetics of the algae that produce lake snot.

But the regional council can’t be accused of rushing in to understanding lake snot.

In September it collected its first lake snot sample.

That’s at least 12 years after it was first discovered by fishermen in Lake Wanaka.

Schallenberg says scientists at the meeting didn’t know a way to rid the lakes of the invasive goo and they’re split on how to stop or slow its spread to other lakes – or even if that’s possible.

Bodies represented at this week’s snot summit included universities of Otago and Waikato, regional councils from Otago, Canterbury and Southland, University of Waikato, Cawthron Institute, Landcare Research, NIWA and Ministry for Primary Industries.

The meeting seemed positive, Schallenberg says, adding: “It’s very hard to judge – words are not action.”