Students dive into fieldwork at Ningaloo trip

July 26, 2016

Marine Biology camp in Coral BaySwimming around the pristine Ningaloo coral reef may be a dream holiday for many, but it’s a taste of future working life for Murdoch’s marine biology students.

Twenty undergraduates recently spent 10 days in Coral Bay where they were immersed in the working lives of scientists based at the University’s research station.

The students contributed to field research currently underway at Murdoch University’s Coral Bay Research Station, using their time in the marine park learning to sample sea floor habitats, intertidal communities and fish populations.

Students also examined territoriality of damselfish, responses of seaweeds to wave exposure and the use of baited remote underwater video to examine fish populations.

The intensive camp is the brainchild of Murdoch University’s academic chair of Marine Science, Dr Mike Van Keulen, who says it provides an essential taste of the real working life of early career scientists.

“We want students to understand relevance of science in the running of a large, complex marine park, as well as highlighting the complexities of balancing protection of our natural environment with human usage demands,” Dr Van Keulen said.

“During the field camp students undertake two projects in which they examine the ecology of Western Australia’s near-pristine Ningaloo Reef.

“Students receive advanced training in field survey design and techniques, learn to identify marine organisms and to analyse their results.

“The students attend lectures about tropical marine ecosystems, biological processes and climate change during their visit to the field station and then are able to reinforce the knowledge by diving into the water to see these processes first-hand.

“The immersive nature of this field camp complements Murdoch’s strong reputation for relevant experiential training, helping prepare students for a variety of careers in the biological and environmental sciences.”

Students had a chance to observe manta rays.Dr Van Keulen said the results from several of the projects are given to the WA Department of Parks & Wildlife to help inform its management program for the Ningaloo Marine Park.

Fourth year Marine Science student Josh Calais said the trip gave participants a good taste of marine research.

“I hope to move into a career where I am conducting research in the field or monitoring marine ecosystems, so the camp gave me a good insight into the practical elements of being a marine biologist,” he said.

“Between sampling exercises we had the opportunity to head out with researchers to see manta rays, turtles and reef sharks up close.

“It was a very intense few days but an unforgettable experience.”

Murdoch University has run the annual Tropical Marine Biology field camp at Murdoch University’s Coral Bay Research Station since 2008.

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