After years in the pipeline, an Alpine Lakes Research and Education Centre (ALREC) established by WAI Wānaka (formerly the Upper Clutha Lakes Trust - UCLT) to provide a research base for the natural environment and freshwater is set to open its doors later this year.
A “living laboratory”, ALREC is a manifestation of the vision of the late ORC councillor Maggie Lawton and Marc Schallenberg from the University of Otago to secure long-term ecosystem health by promoting collaboration and communication between researchers, regulators, educators and local communities.
In June 2018, UCLT commenced the Wānaka Water Project with project partners
Otago Regional Council, Queenstown Lakes District Council, Te Kākano Aotearoa Trust and Catchments Otago, and co-ordinated the development of a Community Catchment Plan (CCP) for the Upper Clutha. The CCP addresses current and future risks to freshwater resources in order to prevent any decline in water quality and ecosystem function in an integrated way across the whole catchment.
A vital part of the CCP, ALREC will help to facilitate action, ideas, conversation and research designed to advance our environment and understanding of Alpine Lakes ecology, attracting scientists from all over the world to carry out research in the Upper Clutha area and helping to close gaps in our understanding of the natural environment.
As well as undertaking scientific projects relating to water, land, ecosystem function, biodiversity and climate change, ALREC will also connect community organizations to businesses, residents and visitors through engagement activities.
ALREC’s Wānaka site at 185 Riverbank Road has been leased from ORC, and will provide a community and environmental hub for innovation and learning, with office/light laboratory facilities and space for workshops, seminars, speaker events and education activities. The site will provide a cost-effective way for the ALREC concept to be fully tested before WAI Wānaka proceeds with plans to develop a more comprehensive, purpose-built laboratory facility.
Katie Hart, part of the WAI Wānaka Water Action Initiative and project lead for ALREC, said that the town was a “brilliant location” for the centre. With 75 percent of asked researchers saying that Wānaka was an important location for their research, and 60 percent saying they would be likely or very likely to use ALREC, she is excited for the laboratory to be established.
Although the formal opening of ALREC, planned for Spring 2020, may be delayed due to the impact of coronavirus, Hart said that the global pandemic had provided opportunities as well as barriers. Despite difficulties with international travel, she felt confident that New Zealand-based researchers would still be interested in coming to the area.
“It is our beautiful environment that brings people here, and it’s our biggest asset,” she said.
“Now more than ever, our region is an area where people come to enjoy the amazing natural landscape and resources that we have, including water. Now is the time to focus on ensuring those resources are well cared for for everyone to enjoy.
“We have an opportunity to make sure that we use this new focus to look after it, and get projects kicked off,” - projects that would assist in both environmental and economic growth in the region.
WAI Wānaka expects to have a brand new website up and running in the coming weeks, where members of the community can sign up for updates and ways to be involved. For now, those interested can follow the WAI Wānaka Facebook page.
Read edition 976 of the Wānaka Sun here.