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28-30 November 2018
Investigating Marine and Coastal Ecosystems in Ranong
Seven brilliant UWC students joined the Barge team in beautiful Ranong on the Andaman coast for three days at the end of November. Based at the Andaman Coastal Research Station for Development (ACRSD), students aimed 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.
After an introduction to field study techniques we set off to the rocky shore to do our first two investigations and witness a magnificent rainbow!
Investigation 1: Using belt transects to assess how biodiversity changes along an environmental gradient from a dry to wet area. Students used systematic sampling and recorded the numbers of seven key species; Rock oysters, Acorn barnacles, Planaxis, Knobby periwinkles, Limpets, Sargassum seaweed and Sea slaters After statistical analysis using Simpson’s Biodiversity Index, it was found diversity was higher closer to the sea edge, with greater numbers of rock oysters and limpets being found.
Investigation 2: Comparing limpet shell index at two different locations; a sheltered shoreline and an exposed shoreline. After a great deal of hunting for limpets, students measured the shell width and height using calipers, before placing the limpet back onto its scar. After statistical analysis using a t-test, two of the groups found no statistical difference between the two sites, however one group did. They discovered, in line with previous research, shell index was lower (i.e. shell height was greater) at sites where the shoreline was more exposed. However, with only a sample size of ten we decided to club all our data together to get a sample size of 30, and therefore more accurate statistics. Unfortunately the standard deviation in this data set was extremely high, and the results were deemed statistically not significant. A good teaching point though as it highlighted the importance of having a big enough sample size.
On day two we set off to the seagrass beds to conduct a Bioblitz. On the way there some of us (who were looking in the right direction) were lucky enough to see a dolphin, although the captain thought it could possibly have been a dugong!
Donning our snorkel masks and armed with ID charts we set off to record as many species as possible. The seagrass beds appeared much healthier than last year and we saw a whole host of invertebrates including moon crabs, hermit crabs, sand-bubbling crabs, brittle stars, sea pens, moon snails and huge congregations of starfish.
In the afternoon we went off to study the invertebrates of the grasslands and mangroves. Armed with pooters and sweep nets, the students had great fun trying to catch as many invertebrates as possible. Back at the lab we set about identifying everything down to its’ Order. Grassland habitat appeared more diverse after statistical analysis, with an Order richness of 7 compared to a richness of 4 in the mangroves. However our results could have been rather biased due to the time spent at each site, and the rather unscientific sampling method of ‘catch as much as you can’ being used!
A surprise was in store when we got back to the Centre later that day as some unexpected visitors had come to see the boys’ and girls’ rooms. It seemed something with a love of biscuits and chocolate cake had found their stash and delighted in eating everything in sight – long-tailed macaques! Unfortunately we didn’t get to catch them in the act as they’d already vanished back into the mangroves.
On the last day we went to learn about the mangroves and the devastating impact the tsunami had on Thailand, Ranong and the Research Centre in particular. After a somber video detailing the events of Boxing Day 2004 we went on a walk to see the ‘stairs to nowhere’ and a plaque dedicated to those that lost their lives at the research station. Afterwards, our guide P Bao, took us on an adventure through the mangroves to learn about the animals, plants and their adaptations, with some students literally getting stuck in the mud!
Students were also tasked with designing investigations that looked at the impacts humans have on the mangrove ecosystem. All students were really engaged with the topic and designed some excellent investigations. We hope some will choose to complete them for their assessments so we can find out the answers!