Giving students opportunities to experience marine environments, and get beyond labs and lecture theatres, is an important focus for AUT’s marine science programmes.

“Scientific expedition is a really critical skill. There is a huge amount of planning and logistics involved before you can start to gather data and make discoveries,” says Dan Breen, programme leader for marine biology. “We want to ensure our students develop those skills, in the field, as part of their study.”

Field trips include estuaries, zoos, marine parks and intertidal shores but also extend beyond New Zealand waters. AUT has cultivated scientific partnerships in the Pacific and has a research station in the Solomon Islands where undergraduate and postgraduate students can undertake fieldwork.

“We’ve seen how valuable the experience is for our students. They come away with a more global outlook, they can carry out research in both temperate and tropical marine environments and they build practical skills that are vital for ecologists.”

Getting to study marine life in the Solomon Islands during his Bachelor of Science is part of what inspired AUT PhD candidate Antony Vavia to pursue postgraduate studies, and he spent most of 2020 collecting fieldwork data on Mitiaro Island in the Cook Islands.

For students studying marine biology at AUT, the university’s globally respected researchers and research connections also open up exciting opportunities.

Marine ecologist AUT Professor Andrea Alfaro has led major research projects for New Zealand’s aquaculture industry to improve the reproduction and growth of mussels and other commercial shellfish.

Now working with the Cawthron Institute, she has secured a government grant to establish a shellfish culture programme which will see students working with industry on commercial projects. Associate Professor Dr Kat Bolstad, who heads up the lab for Cephalopod Ecology and Systematics aka “AUT Squid Lab”, has established links with the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA), giving students access to life changing research experiences. PhD candidate Ryan Howard took part in a scientific expedition to the Chatham Rise and dissected a giant squid aboard the NIWA research vessel Tangaroa.

AUT marine students are also undertaking research in New Zealand and Australian waters thanks to partnerships with organisations including Seafood Innovations in New Zealand and the Australian Blue Economy Collaborative Research Centre.

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