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Victoria to offer NZ’s first major in marine bio

In a New Zealand first, Victoria University students will be able to major in marine biology as part of their Bachelor of Science (BSc).

After a year of general studies, students will take courses ranging from field marine biology to marine ecology, marine invertebrates, fisheries and aquaculture, and algae. The first students to take the major will complete their degrees in 2002.

Programme leader Jonathan Gardner says the course provides students with a broad education in marine biology, an area of huge importance to New Zealand.

“New Zealand’s marine industries – aquaculture, oil and gas, fisheries and boat-building – are very valuable,” says Dr Gardner. “All up, they’re worth around $3.17 billion to the economy every year.”

“Marine business is big business, and it will only get bigger.”

At around 12,500 km, New Zealand has the eighth longest coastline in the world. We also have the fourth largest economic zone in the world, at 483 million hectares.

“Our economic zone ranges from the subtropical north to the subantarctic southern islands,” says Dr Gardner.

“New Zealand is a wonderful place to be a marine biologist,” he says. “Our marine environment has everything from rocky shores and extensive reef systems to sandy beaches, estuaries, fiords, volcanic activity and canyons.”

However, like most countries, there is a distinct lack of information about New Zealand’s marine environment. “We know more about the surface of the moon than we do about the sea,” says Dr Gardner.

Dr Gardner says Wellington is the ideal place to study marine biology because of its coastal location. “We’re close to the harbour, Cook Strait, the Pauatahanui Inlet and the Kapiti Island Marine Reserve – all very different marine habitats.”

“Victoria is also the closest university to Nelson, New Zealand’s major fishing port, and the Marlborough Sounds, the nation’s aquaculture centre.”

The ‘coastal capital’ location also means students and researchers get to work closely with key Government agencies and other organisations involved in marine science. Staff and students at Victoria are currently working on projects with Te Papa, the Department of Conservation, NIWA, the Cawthron Institute and local Maori groups.

Dr Gardner says marine biology at Victoria has a strong emphasis on fieldwork, with many students being scuba divers. “Our boat, the Raukawa Challenger, is moored in Wellington harbour, and goes to sea two or three times a week.”

Students also benefit from Victoria’s marine laboratory on Wellington’s south coast at Island Bay, about eight kilometres south of the university’s Kelburn campus. The laboratory is in front of a proposed marine reserve - an exposed rocky reef typical of Cook Strait - and has views to the South Island.

The laboratory has a purpose-built wet-lab, a computer lab and an instrument room, and holds high-tech equipment including an electronic particle counter, a fluorometer and dissolved oxygen meters. A dive store, outdoor holding tanks and a workshop are also on site, and the laboratory is close to The Brass Monkey, a local café that is popular with staff and students.

Dr Gardner says other areas of research and teaching at Victoria complement studies in marine biology, especially Antarctic studies and environmental studies, chemistry and biomedical science. “A hot area at the moment is research on anti-cancer properties in marine sponges,” Dr Gardner says. “Marine bio-products are an immensely exciting field.”

Dr Gardner says marine research has always been an attractive option for students. “There’s the ‘Jacques Cousteau’ factor, but there are also growing career opportunities. Graduates are employed as research scientists, environmental consultants, policy analysts and scientific officers. Some even start their own aquaculture businesses.”

Marine biology is also popular with postgraduate students at Victoria, with 15 students currently undertaking MSc and PhD level studies in the area.

The research interests of staff teaching marine biology at Victoria range from aquaculture (especially clams, mussels, scallops and oysters) to environmental impact assessments, conservation biology, population genetics and physiological ecology.

For more information on studying marine biology at Victoria, please call the School of Biological Sciences on ph 0800 22 77 55 or contact Jonathan directly on ph 04 463 5574 or email Jonathan.Gardner@vuw.ac.nz.

Victoria University Wellington

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