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Seaweek 2011: Spotlight on Marine Science

Marine Science Matters! - a unit for primary schools




Background Information for Teachers

“The line where the land meets the sea is the margin between two worlds, a frontier that belongs to both. The ebbing tide abandons it to the land until the flowing sea reclaims it. In this fringe of sea and land a great community of strange and often beautiful animals live, reproduce, and die in the pools, on the rocks, or under the stones. So abundant are they, and so easily seen that they make the seashore an endless source of fascination”. (Isobel Bennett, 1966)

Isobel dedicated her life to the study of the sea through her job as a marine biologist. She was a pioneer for women in science and made outstanding contributions to her field. Unlike Isobel many Australians take the ocean for granted. Will there always be fish and other seafood for us to catch and eat? Will we one day rid the ocean of sharks so that no one ever need fear swimming in the open ocean? Just how much pollution and human caused changes can the ocean take? How many new organisms are still to be discovered in our vast oceans? How can the work of scientists like Isobel help us understand more about our oceans and the issues facing us as our population continues to grow? These are just a few questions that should get you thinking about the Seaweek 11 theme and the many ways it can be adapted to develop a fascinating unit of work for students.

Oceans as a resource

Australia has one of the largest ocean territories in the world, a resource that remains largely unexplored and unknown. Should we view our ocean as a resource or a responsibility? Many of us think of the marine environment as something to be used, taken from or added to, used for leisure & sporting activities, obtaining food or mining resources such as oil & gas, sand and even fresh water. Who thinks about the myriad of organisms that live in the diverse ocean environments? Do we even know what lives there and how modern human lifestyles are impacting on them? All habitats and organisms in the marine environment are inextricably linked by the one thing they have in common, the water they live in. This is a major resource that needs protecting because if the quality of the ocean water suffers so does everything that depends on it, including us! Marine science matters!

Ocean habitats

Our vast ocean area contains one of the greatest arrays of marine biodiversity on earth. Australia's marine environments contain more than 4,000 fish varieties and tens of thousands of species of invertebrates, plants and micro-organisms. From the spectacular coral reefs of Australia's tropical north to the majestic kelp forests of the temperate south, the number of newly discovered species tends to increase with each survey. Currently scientists estimate about 80% of our southern marine species occur nowhere else in the world. But these are threatened by: over fishing; marine pests and diseases; increased tourism and recreation; human driven climate change and increased pollution and sedimentation. We need to manage human activities more carefully and more consciously to ensure these habitats are protected. Without the work done by marine scientists we wouldn’t know these habitats were there or what impact most of us unknowingly are having on their existence. Marine Science Matters!


Aquaculture is the fastest growing primary industry in Australia and the fastest growing food production sector in the world. The stagnant or diminishing of the world wild caught fisheries together with growing world population have led to the reliance on aquaculture as the mean for fish production to meet the world demand for fish protein. There is a fabulous unit on Aquaculture in Australia on the MESA website (see web links). The development of aquaculture systems has been made possible through marine science research and development into controlling artificial breeding, farming food sources and preventing diseases. Marine Science Matters!

Research informs legislation

The results of research by eminent scientist Professor Malcolm McCulloch from the University of Western Australia are used by agencies such as the Productivity Commission to regulate farming practices to reduce the impacts of river run off on the Great Barrier Reef. At first these regulations were voluntary but recently more stringent regulations have been put in place to control farming practices. Current zoning of the Great Barrier Reef has been also been an outcome of the work, with the introduction of Green Zones and No-take zones which have reduced fishing. Over fishing is another factor that can impact on coral reefs. Marine Science Matters!

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Contributions to technology and scientific knowledge

The oceans and the range of organisms they contain provide raw materials, new sources of food, textiles, medicines and energy. Each day new discoveries are being made by marine scientists about the ocean environment that contribute to the world's scientific and industrial knowledge. The potential of thousands of yet-to-be discovered marine products to provide lifesaving drugs is virtually untapped but expanding every year. Invention of new technologies and research techniques continues to increase our understanding of the balance of chemical, physical and biological components of the oceans. Marine Science Matters! (Information from Australian Government, Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water , Population and Communities).

Marine parks and sanctuary zones

Australia has many marine protected areas - areas of land and/or sea especially dedicated to the protection and maintenance of biological diversity and of natural and associated cultural resources, and managed through legal or other effective means. These cover a range of environment including: reefs; seagrass beds; tidal lagoons; mudflats; saltmarshes; mangroves; rock platforms; shipwrecks; archeological sites; underwater areas on the coast; and seabeds in deep water. Activities are allowed in a marine protected area depend on the reasons for protecting that area. Each marine protected area is different. Some are total exclusion zones which bar access, some are ‘no-take’ zones where you can look and not touch whilst others are ‘multiple use’ areas which includes fishing, boating and other sporting activities.

As a developed nation with a maritime area larger than the continent itself, Australia has a special responsibility for the conservation and management of its marine and coastal environments and their resources. Society expects that natural areas will be protected. Results from Marine science research provides evidence to help make decisions about which areas should be protected and to evaluate the effectiveness of protection measures. Marine Science Matters! (Information from Australian Government, Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water , Population and Communities).

Flora and fauna

Do you really know how many interesting, unique, boring or just plain weird organisms live in the variety of marine zones in our oceans? Australia has many ecologically rich sites, such as the Great Barrier Reef, Queensland wet Tropics, Kakadu wetlands, Australian Alpine areas, south-western Australia and Sub-Antarctic Islands. Some organisms are so tiny or so elusive that they have not yet been observed by humans. There is still so much to discover. Marine science matters!

Importance of marine science research

The vastness of our oceans doesn’t mean we should take them for granted. It means that there is so much more out there to discovery, imagine one of your students in the future discovering and describing a new species previously unknown or figuring out that a common sponge holds the key to curing cancer, or that humans being able to spend time at the beach, or enjoying other marine environments contributes seriously to reducing work related stress and makes for a happier community? Current studies on ocean acidification cause by increased greenhouse gases and dissolving of carbon dioxide (which forms an acid) in sea water may be able to predict the limits the ocean waters can tolerate before coral reefs like the Great Barrier Reef will cease to exist. These are just some of the reasons why the work of marine scientists is important to our society. Marine science matters!

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