Nayland College student Eva Ang analysing mussel spurs at the Cawthron Aquaculture Park last week. Photo: Jonty Dine.

Budding biologists seeking breakthrough

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Are we harming our ocean’s inhabitants with the pharmaceuticals we pour into their home?

A team of Nelson secondary school scientists wants to find out.

The budding biologists have been running a series of experiments on mussels at the Cawthron Aquaculture Park to figure out what effects the likes of antidepressants and birth control have on spats.

Richard de Hamel of the New Zealand Marine Studies Centre at the University of Otago says the answers to such questions may have multimillion-dollar consequences.

Richard is part of a team of educators who have teamed up with Cawthron NMIT and SpatNZ to deliver ‘real world’ laboratory workshops.

More than 100 Year 13 biology students from secondary schools in Nelson and Marlborough have been finding out about the science that lies behind our successful aquaculture industry.

The workshops are designed to give students access to state-of-the-art laboratory facilities to carry out experiments with mussels.

Alice McCullough, who took part in the very first workshops eight years ago, says they were a major influence on what she is doing now.

“The workshops were the first time I really got to think for myself in a real-world laboratory environment.”

Alice says she had to use her knowledge and apply it to a real problem.

Since leaving school, Alice has completed a Bachelor of Science and a Graduate Diploma in Marine Science and will shortly start her master’s degree, where she will study sponges.

Alice was also one of Cawthron’s summer scholars and spent ten weeks looking at the use of algae as feed in the aquaculture industry.

She says students lead their own experiments and for many it’s the first time that they are faced with the challenge of overcoming science challenges.

Jess Alloway and Roz Walker from Nelson College for Girls were looking at the effect of different concentrations of adrenalin on mussel heart rate.

“We can’t access this in a school environment, so it’s been fantastic to be able to come here and talk to scientists and work in a laboratory,” says Jess.

She says it’s ‘real science’, and it’s exciting to think about how new research might be framed because of something they discover.