Marine biology students seek hidden creatures

FOR many south-west residents, the abundance of seaweed on Warrnambool’s foreshore is little more than an eyesore and a reason to pinch their noses.

But a group of second-year Deakin University marine biology students this week found the slimy mounds to be a habitat rich with life.

In a project designed to improve their ability to sort through marine samples and identify organisms, the students were surprised to find so much activity, according to senior lecturer in marine biology and ecology Alecia Bellgrove.

“It’s a really important component of the ecosystem,” she said.

“A group of second-year marine biology students came back to uni a couple of weeks early for a pre-trimester field trip.

“We wanted to capitalise on the better weather and low tides.

“The main focus is to sample the biodiversity of marine organisms in the local environment.”

Records of the changes in biodiversity over time can also help to explain climate change, Dr Bellgrove said.

The 41 students collected samples of organisms in the seaweed near the harbour pavilion, in the sandstone pools of Lady Bay and in the mouth of Port Fairy’s Moyne River.

“They looked at what sorts of species there are, how many species groups — what’s living where, basically,” Dr Bellgrove said.

“What species are native, what species are occurring naturally and are abundant.

“They’ll get a bunch of different samples and use microscopes to work out what they are in the labs.”

The group scoured the mouth of the Moyne River on Wednesday for organisms living high and low on the shore and under the water.

“Some of them went in a boat ... they were running a dredge along to find out what organisms are living in the sediment on the bottom of the ocean,” Dr Bellgrove said.

The students will work in groups to collate the data for a graded report, the lecturer said.

Next year they will finish the three-year course with a bachelor of environmental science and marine biology.

Yesterday marked the final day of the intensive field trip, which began last Tuesday.

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