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Kiwi students engage in mussel culture

Nearly 200 biology students were given an introduction to mussel culture at New Zealands Cawthron Aquaculture Park this month.

The students were engaged in mussel biology workshops, which provide access to state-of-the-art Nelson Marlborough Institute of Technology (NMIT) laboratory facilities where they can conduct self-led experiments with mussels. The initiative, now in its sixth year, is the result of a collaboration between NMIT, SpatNZ, University of Otago, and Cawthron Institute.

For the first time since the workshops began, Nelson College is participating and students are thrilled. Nelson College science teacher Johnnie Fraser advocated for his school’s involvement after he spent six months with Cawthron under a Royal Society placement. Mr Fraser recognised the value students gained from the workshops and wanted his students to take up the opportunity.

"It’s so great for senior biology students to meet scientists in an informal situation to discuss their investigations, and to hear from the scientists the pathways that led them to their work.

"Connecting the Cawthron science and scientists, with local industry, and the courses available at NMIT and Otago University is a precious thing for high school science students," said Mr Fraser.

One of Mr Fraser’s students Gardhav Mehratra was enjoying the workshop and said: "My experiment is off to a sensational start. I’m looking at how a change in the pH of the water affects mussel feeding rate."

These workshops are part of Cawthron’s activities aimed at disseminating science and knowledge in the broad environmental field. Cawthron community educator Cristina Armstrong explains how the programme teaches problem solving skills.

"The workshops are a valuable learning tool. Students lead their own experiments and for many it’s the first time they have to overcome real science challenges. We survey the students before and after they complete the workshop and the positive results demonstrate the research-teaching nexus.

"During their time at the Cawthron Aquaculture Park, students have a special visit to SpatNZ’s premises where they discover how the mussel breeding programme works, and learn how New Zealand’s aquaculture value has increased through research and innovation," said Ms Armstrong.

SpatNZ also supply students with the mussel spat needed to conduct their experiments. Operations manager Dan McCall said, "We support the year 13 workshops because we see human capability as a key component of our business. Through the tour of our facilities, students see first-hand that there are cool jobs in the aquaculture industry."

The programme has real world results. Hannah Coote participated in the workshop as a year 13 student and became inspired to study aquaculture at NMIT; having completed her diploma, Hannah is now a SpatNZ employee.

University of Otago’s Nelson educator Richard de Hamel has been instrumental in the programme’s success. He believes in the positive impact laboratory time has on young people and said: "It’s great for students who are making decisions around their careers to spend time in a working lab environment. This is real science in context."

Rob Fletcher

Rob Fletcher

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