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Summer adventure

Science field courses return to Newfoundland's West Coast

Teaching and Learning

By Kelly Foss

Ashley Nickson completed four courses at the Bonne Bay Aquarium and Research Station this summer — the first time they were offered since 2019.

“I chose the courses because they allowed for a wide variety of knowledge and exposure in the various fields of marine biology,” said the fourth-year marine biology honours student in the Faculty of Science. “They have opened my eyes to the sub-disciplinary practices being performed in this amazing field.”

Ms. Nickson says the two-week long field courses in Norris Point, N.L., on Newfoundland’s West Coast, gave her the opportunity to be in the field almost every day.

A trip up the Great Northern Peninsula to St. Anthony for whale watching was an unforgettable experience, as well.

“I will also cherish the daily kitchen talks and conversations, sparking more learning and curiosity into every student’s mind,” she said.

“These comprehensive field courses allowed us to put everything we had been learning into hands-on, practical application and brought people together, students and teachers alike, allowing me to get closer with my professors and meet many amazing people I now call my friends.”

Diverse habitats in close proximity

Dr. Craig Purchase, a professor in the Department of Biology, returned for his 10th year of teaching the undergraduate course Estuarine Fish Ecology at the facility, which also celebrated its 20th anniversary this summer.

A group of students and their instructor with water and mountains in the background
Dr. Craig Purchase, second from right, with his students in Bonne Bay, N.L.
Photo: Submitted

“BIOL 3714 focuses on strategies to avoid sampling bias, and how to sample fish, how to get data on fish and how to sample fish habitats,” he said. “We survey shallow water marine habitats and learn how to compare the fish community composition in different areas.

“One of the benefits of doing a course like this in Bonne Bay is, because of the landscape and topography of the area, there are very diverse habitats in close proximity,” he continued. “You have shallow water river mouths full of fine sediments and eel grass diversity a couple of hundred metres away from the East Arm fjord, which is over 230 metres deep. You just can’t get that near the city.”

“Many find this the most rewarding time in their university experience.” — Dr. Craig Purchase

Dr. Purchase also says the experience of living at the station for the duration of the course also creates a special fellowship between the students and professors.

“We live together on site, so you are with each other all day long. The camaraderie you get from that is much stronger than an on-campus course. They become a tight-knit bunch and many find this the most rewarding time in their university experience. It’s an adventure.”

Students use a large net in the water.
Students in BIOL 3714 learn how to sample fish habitats.
Photo: Submitted

‘Grew with the task’

Dr. Uta Passow is a Canada Research Chair in Biological Oceanographic Processes with the Department of Ocean Sciences.

She taught her first course at the station, BIOL 4710/OCSC 4500, this summer.

“My course was different from other undergraduate courses taught at the station this summer in that it focused on laboratory rather than field work, although we did go into the field several times to collect oceanographic samples for experiments,” said Dr. Passow.

“At first the students were a bit intimidated by the proposition that they would design, conduct, analyze, interpret and present a scientific laboratory experiment in two weeks, but they grew with the task.”

Students wearing life jackets lined up in front of the Bonne Bay Aquarium and Research Station
Dr. Uta Passow’s BIOL 4710/OCSC 4500 class with some of their gear at the Bonne Bay Aquarium and Research Station.
Photo: Submitted

While she and her teaching assistant were both available to guide and mentor the students, they were encouraged to think independently, problem-solve and try things on their own.

“They became proficient in specific biochemical oceanographic analysis and learned how to build a data sheet, evaluate and process their data and produce interesting graphs. Additionally, the intense relationships between mentor and students in a course like this provided opportunities for shyer students, who normally watch, to get involved and act.”

Find out more about the Bonne Bay Aquarium and Research Station-based undergraduate courses and graduate course online.

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