Aquaculture news

Jess Nicholson from Nayland College
8 May 2018

Local students experience real life aquaculture science

Testing the effect of caffeine on shellfish isn't a typical science lesson for most Year 13 students. But for 150 Nelson secondary biology students, experiments on mussels have been on the menu at workshops at the Cawthron Aquaculture Park.

The workshops, now in their seventh year, are the result of a successful collaboration between NMIT, SpatNZ, Otago University, and Cawthron Institute. This year they also have financial support from Port Nelson and Aquaculture New Zealand.

Students leave their classrooms and don lab coats to gain ‘hands-on’ science experience. The mussel biology workshops provide secondary school students access to state-of-the-art Nelson Marlborough Institute of Technology (NMIT) laboratory facilities where they can gain NCEA credits by conducting self-led experiments with mussels. It is part of the NCEA curriculum which requires students to do practical investigation in a biological context.

During their time at the Cawthron Aquaculture Park, students also visit to SpatNZ’s premises where they discover how the spat breeding programme works. They also learn how New Zealand’s aquaculture value has increased through research and innovation.

Educators from Cawthron and the University of Otago facilitate the student learning and disseminate science in the broad environmental field.

Otago University’s Nelson educator, Richard de Hamel, has been instrumental in the programme’s success and has been involved since the programme started in 2012.

“While the students enjoy the work, they find it challenging,” says de Hamel. “It's real science in context. For many, this is the first-time they have completed an experiment on their own and experienced the everyday challenges that scientists face.

“It’s great for students who are making decisions around their careers to spend time in a working lab environment. During their two days here, students see firsthand that there are cool jobs in the aquaculture industry."

“The programme allows students to hone their problem-solving skills and test their theories in a real laboratory setting,” says Cawthron educator Meg Turner. “It is exciting to see the students getting inspired about real life science and building their confidence as potential future scientists.

“It's a unique opportunity due to the collaboration between organisations and we get to witness the 'lightbulb' moments that result from it. Students get to see the connection between their experiments and what other scientists are investigating in the aquaculture field. For some students, this experience may be the seed that grows into a career in science or as an educator, it's a privilege to be a part of that.”

Nayland College teacher Gerd Banke has been bringing her students to the workshops for several years and is enthusiastic about the opportunity they provide. “It’s great to see the high energy as students try out their ideas,” says Banke. “We work to accommodate and support them – especially when things don’t go as planned. The students also meet Cawthron scientists in an informal situation to discuss their investigations and hear about work opportunities once they leave school or tertiary study.”

Students are similarly enthusiastic. Jess Nicholson, from Nayland College, investigated how different concentrations of microplastics affect filtration rates and the amount of algae eaten by green-lipped mussels. She found that even small concentrations will negatively impact mussels and their feeding.

“Being able to use the facilities at the aquaculture park was amazing and all the staff were very friendly and helpful,” says Nicholson. “Seeing innovation first hand was very encouraging and I loved checking out all the cool equipment and systems.”


Further questions please contact:

Elizabeth Bean
Ph: 5394336 or 027 4148781