I don’t think I have ever enjoyed a subject so much as this one!
I have never done an intensive subject before, nor have I done a subject during the summer semester. So I wasn’t really sure what to expect as I was on my way to Queenscliff for Experimental Marine Biology.
In this blog post, I will give you the spiel on what the subject is about, then share (or brag) some of the things we got up to in the subject.
Introduction into the subject
Experimental Marine Biology is a science subject with a quota (only 40 students can do this subject). In 2014 the subject ran from Mon 3 Feb – Sat 8 Feb. The subject was held at the Victorian Marine Science Consortium in Queenscliff. We were required to organise our way up there, accommodation, food etc.
The VMSC facility is great. It is also home to the Marine and Freshwater Discovery Centre (which I highly recommend you pay a visit if you’re in the area. It beats the Melbourne Aquarium).
From my understanding of how the Zoology major works, you need to pick one of four subjects listed below, plus 3 other subjects in order to graduate as a Zoology major (see here for more info).
- BIOL30002 Experimental Reproductive Physiology
- ZOOL30007 Experimental Animal Behaviour
- ZOOL30009 Field Biology of Australian Wildlife
- ZOOL30008 Experimental Marine Biology
What do you do in this subject?
We were split into 7 groups, and each group were designated a project and a demonstrator to guide you through the course of the subject. Each project focuses on one or more species.
Here’s a brief rundown of the projects offered this year:
- Risk and reward: Behavioural interactions between scavengers (crabs)
- All climate is local: Interactions between intertidal snails and algal canopies (snails)
- Settlement of marine invertebrate larvae: How vulnerable to climate stresses are larvae? (Bugula neritina)
- How resources-limited are local hermit crabs? (Hermit crabs)
- Biological invasions: How do native invertebrates respond to a novel predator? (Seastars)
- Habitat choice at settlement in reef fishes (Hulafish)
- Urchin grazing behaviour and responses to resource availability (Sea Urchin – our topic)
With this project, you then have to work with your team to create and run your own experiments for the week. Then you have to write it up later.
We spent majority of the week working on our projects, and it was pretty much self-driven. The demonstrators lent a hand from time-to-time, but it was ultimately up to us to run our experiment. The schedule for the week was pretty flexible – you have lunch whenever you and your group decides. The only thing that is set in concrete are the lectures.
The lectures were okay. I really enjoyed the view from where our lectures were held. The 9am lectures were basically the lecturers talking about the research. And yes – some of it was interesting, but I was hoping that they would talk more about the subject content instead about them.
The ‘discussion’ on the thursday? Well…that is fancy talk for ‘let’s go down to the pub and get drunk’. The PhD students took us down to the pub, and yes – they talked about how how they got where they are today. Then there was more pub-related shenanigans.
And on the Friday, the lecturers cooked up a storm for us. We ate, we drank, and we dance. Why can’t every subject be like this?
Anyways, back to the research projects!
Depending on the project you were allocated to, you may spend most of your time in the lab, in the back aquarium, or in the field.
I am not going to lie – I was VERY fortunate to be working on a great topic that allowed me to spend a good chunk of time outdoors.
45 minutes into class, we were on a boat heading out to Rye. Our demonstrator was sent to collect some scallops and seastars for another group because he had his diving certificate. So we tagged along for fun times.
The trip out to Rye was great – but the weather changed pretty quickly and our boat trip back to the dock was rather bumpy. We were soaked head to toe. Mind you – we weren’t expecting to be out in the field on the first day, so we weren’t dressed for the occasion.
Our project on sea urchins
The research question that our group came up with was – will changes in salinity affect sea urchin’s food preference (red vs brown algae)? Then we designed how we were going to test this.
Our group was the smallest, with only 3 people in it. Normally, each group has about 5-6 people in it. Although our project was time-consuming, I am not going to complain because some groups were looking a bit miserable being stuck in the lab for most of the time.
My group was the lucky one – we spent most of our time snorkelling collecting sea urchins and algae.
After collecting the urchins/seaweed, we went back to VMSC’s aquarium to weigh them all, and ran our experiment.
Oh, and this happened.
Long story short – While getting out of the water after snorkelling, I stepped on an urchin, fell, used my hand to support myself, and the hand landed on top of another urchin. And this happened not once, but twice. Yes – I am very injury-prone.
Did it hurt?
The urchin spines were too far in for us to pull out, so my lecturer had to do a bit of surgery and cut into my hand/foot to remove the spines. He really enjoyed himself.
Other group projects
Throughout the week, we also managed to check out what the other groups were up to in the lab.
Here were some of the critters in some projects that I spent a far bit of time admiring:
- Sea stars – gorgeous tube feet
- Hermit Crabs – these guys were the star attraction in the lab
- And Pebble Crabs – these guys are so active!
So now that the field side of the subject is done, we need to work on our lab report. It’s funny because the due date of the report is NEGOTIABLE. This is so unheard of.
If anyone finds a waterproof disposable camera either washed up in Indented Heads or somewhere in the Queenscliff area, it’s mostly likely mine. My camera got washed out to sea while I was too busy getting bullied by urchins. I was a bit devastated to lose it because I think I had some pretty awesome pictures on there.
Oh well! I hope someone out there enjoy my photos of stingrays, urchins, and other sea critters.
I was really surprised at how much I enjoyed this subject! Does this mean that I want to do Marine Biology in the future? Hmm…not quite. It was a great experience, but I still prefer the land, my lizards and reptiles thank you.
The small number of people in class meant that you get to know everyone in the subject pretty well. It’s funny, because I have seen just about everyone in this subject in most of my classes throughout first and second year, yet we never had an opportunity to actually meet each other. So it was great to finally meet these guys!
This subject didn’t really feel like ‘work’…it kinda felt like a holiday. I guess it was really nice to get away from the traditional learning environment, and go out, and get a taste of what ‘real’ research is like.
It was nice to see the lecturers and demonstrators in a much more relaxed setting. We even had one lecturer give his presentation bare footed, and with a beer in his hand. And you get the rare opportunity to get to know the staff better.