Wed, May 25, 2022 9:33 AM

Students study future of mussels


Sara Hollyman

Will rising sea temperatures affect how mussels eat? Does the acidity of the water affect how quickly mussels grow? These are some of the questions that Year 13 students from across the district had the opportunity to explore last week.

A partnership between Cawthron, Otago University and NMIT saw a university marine scientist spend two weeks investigating the molluscs with different groups of high school students from Marlborough and Nelson.

Rai Valley Area School and Kaikōura High School each sent small groups of students to the Cawthron Aquaculture Park in Nelson last week.

As part of a Level 3 achievement standard, students had to carry out a biological investigation.

Rai Valley students Lillyarna Lilburn and Electra Maisey say being at Cawthron gave them the best opportunity to do that.

“We had done research to see which factors we should change and how independent variables were relevant,” Electra says. This then gave them an idea of what they wanted to find out over their two day study.

Otago University professional practice fellow in marine science Steve Cutler says there have been some interesting investigations take place.

“Some students are looking at the effect of pharmaceuticals that come out into the coastal environment.

“We are beginning to measure in the world suprising levels of things like caffeine and paracetemol, coming out through the water. So, some are looking at the effect of caffeine or paracetemol concentration on the mussel’s heart rate.”

He says it’s been a learning curve for everyone.

“It’s the only probable chance, not only in high-school, but also early years of university to do such an intensive programme where they are the sole responsible person for carrying out a rigorous scientific investigation.”

Being at Cawthron gave the students access to mussel spat which are just 2-3mm long, but very mobile. These spat are at the point where they are ready to settle in an area where they will grow into their adult form. This gave the perfect opportunity to see how variables affect outcomes of their future growth.

Over a two-day period, students had the opportunity to test a range of scenarios in a practical environment.

Both Lillyarna and Electra say they have learnt something new from their investigations.

“As the sea becomes more acidic it’s clear that it’s going to have an effect on the mussels as an organism,” Lillyarna says.

The pair say the practical has allowed them to learn more about the mussel industry, ecology and structure of the mussel.

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