For the last 10 years, marine biology and oceanography students at the University of Southampton have travelled to Falmouth to undertake a two-week intensive field course. This course gives students the opportunity to explore and study the Fal Estuary Special Area of Conservation (SAC), whilst applying the numerous oceanographical skills acquired during the first two years of the BSc and MSci programs.
Group 11 from the Falmouth 2016 field course.
Left to right: Lara, Kimi, Elin, Calvin, Abbie, Sarah, Jo, Ryan and Ed.
The opportunity to partake in hands-on oceanographic fieldwork was extremely rewarding, with opportunities to study the physical, chemical and biological aspects of the Fal Estuary and surrounding areas.
There were four research opportunities – review of the system’s offshore dynamics aboard the RV Callista; estuarine oceanography research aboard the RV Bill Conway; review and mapping of the benthic habitat at a chosen location within the Fal Estuary aboard Xplorer; and a short oceanographical time-series at the King Harry pontoon station. The aim of the course was to create a scientific web page, in groups, detailing the methods and results of each of the four research stations. These websites are publicly available online, subsequent to their publishing, and can be viewed here.
The oceanographical equipment used during the field course included side scan sonar, Van Veen grabs, Niskin bottles on a CTD rosette, ADCP’s, light sensors and flow meters. Biological samples of phytoplankton and zooplankton were taken and analysed in labs at Falmouth Marine School, as well as water samples preserved for quantifying parameters such as nitrate, phosphate, silicon and dissolved oxygen concentrations.
Deployment of equipment at the King Harry pontoon (left) and aboard Xplorer (right).
An in-depth individual report on a topic of choice will be submitted during the third year of the BSc and MSci degrees, using data collected during the last ten years of study in the Fal estuary system. My report detailed the short, mid and long-term temporal variability in offshore physical and biological structure in the Western English Channel.
Continuation of study in the Fal estuary is ecologically important due to the maerl and seagrass beds located in the system, and the uncertain future of the SAC status due to the recent Brexit vote.