I figured I should write a little bit about my University education, as that has definitely helped me hone my interests. I have always loved the sea and have been fascinated by the life found within it, but I figured that doing a broader degree (Zoology) would be better than going straight into Marine Biology; there may well be topics that take my fancy more that I hadn’t discovered yet. That never happened! I am still well and truly in love with the sea, so I have massively sculpted my degree to contain as many marine modules as possible. I think I’ve done a pretty good job!
During ‘An Introduction to Invertebrates’ in the first term of first year I came to the realisation that ancient sponges, gorgeous but alien nudibranchs, crabs and jellies were far more interesting to me than insects ever would be. This theme continued in to vertebrates, where everything was super interesting and I loved it all, but the best lectures by far were those on sharks and the large marine mammals. Learning about their behaviour and ecology was fascinating, and the physiology was pretty cool too.
These modules all built on my thirst for knowledge and desire to get out and see it all. Combined with the start of my diving life, this started the snowball that has been my ventures into the world of marine science! Looking back at myself from first year I have come such a long way, and I have done so much.
My home uni is pretty good at stressing that grades are not enough to get you a good job anymore, you need the experience under your belt too. So taking this in to account over the summer of first year I took myself off to Northern Cyprus, where I volunteered for 5 weeks with the Marine Turtle Conservation Project, and I had a whale of a time. It really furthered my interest in marine conservation and behaviour and had me really looking forwards to my second year modules. (For a more detailed account of my Cyprus trip check out my main blog)
In second year I also did every marine module I could get my hands on: Aquatic vertebrates, Exploitation of the sea and Mammals (had a few marine lectures) were all fantastic modules. They were all really interesting, and luckily they all looked at fairly different topics. Aquatic vertebrates covered all the main groups, and then looked at the main themes related to aquatic life, such as how to find food, movement and (my favourite) diving. Exploitation I absolutely fell in love with; we looked at fisheries and how they impacted the marine environment, how anthropogenic noise can have an effect even miles from the source, how renewable energies and fossil fuels have different impacts on the environment and the best ways forwards… all of this was really interesting to me (well, maybe not so much the fisheries stuff, but it was still fairly interesting). The effects of noise and behavioural ecology of marine animals are two topics which particularly piqued my interest this year. I found myself really intrigued by animals different responses to the stress caused by noise and the implications this can have. I’d love to learn more about this if the opportunity comes around, but for now I’ll just have to be a nerdy girl and read some journal articles!
I also had the opportunity to witness a post-mortem examination/dissection of a porpoise and a seal in my second year. The smell was less appealing, but the dissection itself was fascinating – getting to see the make up of the animal, how what was wrong with it (parasites) had contributed to its general body condition and how they discerned the cause of death. I wouldn’t necessarily want to do this as my day job, but it was cool .
In second year I also took part in a Marine Mammal Rescue Course through the uni. It was a one day training program dedicated to helping stranded animals, keeping them calm and alive until a medic can come to assess them and then, condition allowing, how to get these animals back into the water. Learning how to care for these animals and how best to help them and move them was both fulfilling and depressing. As much as I am glad that I now know what to do, I hope that I never have to help a stranded animal, as they are not usually very healthy or happy!
Moving on to third year – This year I am in the best place for marine modules, and I am loving it! Last semester I took Australia’s Marine Environment and Australia’s Marine Vertebrates as well as Conservation which had an entire Marine section in it which was fabulous. I also liked the Arctic section in the Conservation lectures, but that’s a different topic entirely! This term I am doing Animal Behaviour and Australia’s Marine Invertebrates, which I wasn’t expecting to love quite as much.
All these modules have been fantastic and have provided me with so many opportunities! From doing sein-netting and deploying BRUVs, to doing research projects, from getting to see how my lecturer works with one of Australia’s most charismatic megavertebrates, to hearing about research that has not yet been published – I have been so lucky to have so many incredible experiences. I have been to Stradbroke Island, Heron Island and done research in both of these places, both ecology and lab based. I have also done behavioural studies on Crabs on the mudflats of Brisbane as well as a large project which I am currently working on for the Invert’s module. This is the kind of stuff I want to be doing for a job! I am having an absolute whale of a time! The more I learn, the more I want to know!
Bring on third year and hopefully more marine modules still!