Students research impact of climate change on Australian work placement

Two Applied Marine Biology students at Bangor University have recently returned from a year long work placement with the Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS), undertaking research into coral reef ecosystems. 

Emma and Anna   Emma and AnnaEmma Asbridge, 21, from Preston and Anna Brown, 21, from Hertfordshire spent their time with AIMS at their headquarters in Townsville, Queensland. Committed to the protection of coral reefs, AIMS conducts research to investigate sustainable use of Australia’s marine resources.

Emma, who’s work was based in the ‘Responding to Climate Change’ team explained,  I was instantly drawn to working at AIMS due to the fact they are a leading institute in marine science and work in variety of ways encompassing ecology and cutting edge microbiology. They also offer excellent opportunities to participate on reef trips.

One of the main focuses within The Responding to Climate Change Team is coral coring. Massive Porites colonies, which lay down annual density bands, are cored using specialist equipment. Along with other research work, I helped to prepare the coral for this project.

“Data collected through X-rays and climatic analysis using a densitometer and luminometer provides a picture of the environment and climate hundreds of years ago. In addition, it also shows how corals have been affected by past climate change and allows for future predictions. This allows scientists to try to tackle rising sea temperatures which cause coral bleaching, disease and ultimately ecosystem destruction.

“Along with sea temperature rise another key force of coral reef destruction is cyclonic activity.  I witnessed this first hand in February when Cyclone Yasi (category 5) hit North Queensland. About a month later I snorkelled Davies Reef and saw the destruction that was left behind. Huge Acropora plate corals were upturned and broken branches from predominately Staghorn corals lay scattered over the seabed.

Diving on a coral reef    Diving on a coral reef“I am extremely interested in this topic area and put together a report, detailing impacts, responses, lowest pressure, highest wind speed, track and category for cyclones that have hit Australia within 50km of a reef in the last 100 years.”

Explaining her work with AIMS Anna added, “I undertook a wide range of tasks over the course of the year- so I didn’t have a set daily routine. The highlights were learning genetic analysis techniques and a number of laboratory practices, investigating the effects of cyclones on coral reefs and finally, helping research scientists with field work out on the Great Barrier Reef.

“I have learned a great deal, not only about coral reef ecosystems and the problems currently facing them, but also I learned what it was like to work for a research institute. It has definitely helped me to become more focused on my career options.”

“I would definitely recommend that other students spend a year working in industry. This is a great opportunity to explore an area of marine biology which is otherwise unfamiliar. But more so, as it really helps you to narrow down your options when it comes to deciding on your future career.” 

Emma added, “The difference between the Marine Biology course and the Applied course is the placement year in industry. Very few Universities offer this sandwich course so I was attracted to Bangor immediately because of it. It allowed me to gain an invaluable insight into the work conducted as a research scientist. In addition, I found it very interesting putting into practise concepts I have learnt at university such as DNA extractions and PCR procedures.”

Neither Emma nor Anna had visited Australia prior to the work placement, but both enjoyed their time there immensely.

AIMS headquarters in Townsville    AIMS headquarters in TownsvilleEmma said, “This was the first time I visited Australia and I absolutely loved it! Although the culture is quite similar to that of the UK, the environment and wildlife were completely different. I lived on site at AIMS for the entire year and as it was situated 50km from town in Australian bush land the scenery was fantastic.

“Walking for five minutes from my house I was able to walk along a deserted white sandy beach and see a wide variety of marine life such as: nurse sharks, sea turtles, dolphins, manta rays, sting rays and tropical fish. 

“I am hoping to go back to Australia in the future to see my supervisor and his family who I became great friends with. Australia is a great place to live and work and I would not hesitate to return to AIMS.”

Publication date: 8 August 2011