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5-7 December 2017
Investigating Marine and coastal Ecosystems in Ranong
UWC students joined the Barge team in beautiful Ranong on the Andaman coast aiming to improve their knowledge of four key ecosystems in the area- seagrass beds, mangroves, rocky shores and grasslands, as well as learning and practicing new data collection techniques and statistical analysis.
The trip began with an introduction to field study techniques and how to decide which are the most appropriate sampling methods to use for the habitat and the type of data you want to collect. Following this introduction and having decided that a stratified sampling method using a belt transect with gridded quadrats to investigate biodiversity was the most appropriate technique, it was off to the rocky shore!
At the rocky shore students used belt transects spanning from a dry into a wet are to investigate biodiversity change along the environmental gradient for 7 key species including Rock oysters, Acorn barnacles, Planaxis, Knobby periwinkles, Limpets, Sargassum seaweed and Sea slaters. They also investigated limpet morphology to compare species found on an exposed shore compared to a sheltered shore. Using calipers students took measurements of the limpet aperture width and apex height and recorded it for later analysis. Results of Students T test showed there was a significant difference in shell morphology of the limpets, supporting the student’s hypothesis that the limpets on an exposed shore would have a larger shell aperture and smaller apex height than those found on sheltered shores.
Day two saw students investigating and comparing the biodiversity of invertebrates from a mangrove and a grassland habitat. Sweep nets and pooters were used to collect the invertebrates who were taken back to the lab and identified to Order using microscopes and identification charts. Simpsons index calculations were run on the data collected showing the grassland habitat supported a higher biodiversity of invertebrate species compared to the mangrove.
After assessing biodiversity on a terrestrial grassland it was time to take to the sea and investigate a marine seagrass ecosystem! After a short ride on a long tailed boat the students explored the seagrass beds, snorkeling and completing a Bioblitz. 3 species of seagrass were observed included Halophila Ovalis, the favourite food of the Dugong, a famous seagrass mammal resident in the area, as well as many invertebrates species including starfish, sea pens, hermit crabs, swimming crabs, whelks and venus clams,
Our final day was spent discovering more about mangroves. Adaptations of the mangrove plant and animals species were explored during a walk through the mangroves themselves enabling students to see the iconic mudskippers and fiddler crabs inhabiting the area as well as getting a close up view of the supporting stilt roots belonging to the red mangroves and the pneumatophore roots possessed by white mangrove which help to carry out gas exchange by sticking out above the anaerobic soil. Human impacts and threats to mangroves were investigated back in the classroom with students linking the positive and negative impacts caused by people back to how they might affect the ecosystem services provided by mangroves, including acting as nurseries for economically important fish species, carbon storage, oxygen production, stabilizing coastal shores and absorbing wave energy to protect from tsunamis.
After further exploration of the mangroves students were finally challenged to design their own investigation to explore one of the issues affecting mangroves and plan which sampling techniques and variables would be most suitable to investigate their hypothesis, drawing on all the different techniques used and knowledge gained from their field trip.