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Marine and Coastal Ecology


Students who take the Marine and Coastal Ecology option will:

  • Gain a superior theoretical understanding of the principles of ecology as they apply in aquatic environments (freshwater, terrestrial, marine)
  • Learn to identify the diverse animals and plants of New Zealand’s coastal environment and have the skills and knowledge to tackle any ecological issue or problem in an aquatic environment

Core papers


The four core papers in this option include significant field and laboratory exercises, including studies on seashores and boat-work, and train students in the essential skills of a marine ecologist (data analysis and interpretation, reporting writing). The four courses are:


Marine Ecology (BIOSCI 333)

This course considers patterns and processes in marine ecology and biodiversity. Topics include animal and plant interactions, benthic and pelagic habitats, biogeography, productivity and physiology.

The weekend fieldtrip to Leigh Marine Laboratory involves two practicals: complementarity (partitioning of a limiting resource) in nutrient uptake by seaweeds, and an environmental assessment of the Goat Island Marine Reserve seashore, involving contrasting measures of biodiversity from species to habitat maps, and comparison to the pre-reserve situation 30 years previously.


Freshwater and Estuarine Ecology (BIOSCI 330)

New Zealand’s freshwaters and estuaries are small by world standards, but are essential to the country’s environmental and economic well being. Many habitats are subject to high-profile management issues, such as mangrove expansion in estuaries and nutrient enrichment of freshwaters. This course considers the physical environment, biodiversity and ecology of lakes, rivers, wetlands and estuaries, and examines linkages of these systems with near-shore marine habitats. New Zealand examples and case studies are used wherever possible.

The course has a two day practical component, run over a weekend. The first day’s practical is led by Dr Ian Boothroyd, and entails learning how to identify a diverse range of live freshwater fauna (mostly insect larvae, crustaceans, molluscs and fish), which are collected beforehand by SBS technician Schanelle van Dijken from local ponds and streams. The second day is spent with Dr Richard Taylor at the Waiwera River estuary (40 minutes north of Auckland), investigating how the distribution and abundance of sediment-dwelling invertebrates changes along a gradient of salinity and sediment type. Eight to ten sites are sampled from the estuary mouth to near the limit of the tidal influence 4km upstream.


Biology of Fishes (BIOSCI 329)

This course provides a comprehensive coverage of the biology of fishes including their evolution, diversity and organismal biology. Fish from environments such as Antarctica, the deep sea, coral reefs and temperate habitats are considered, as well as the unique fish fauna of New Zealand’s lakes and rivers. The course takes an integrative approach in which the functional biology of fishes is considered in the context of their ecology and evolutionary relationships.

The practical component of BIOSCI.329 involves a three day residential field course at the Leigh Marine Laboratory. The first day of this field course is structured around fish taxonomy; specifically, students are taught how to use a taxonomic key. This skill is critical for biodiversity assessment, and thus biosecurity. The second and third days of the field course involve a comparative exercise on marine herbivorous fishes in which students examine the functional morphology of the feeding apparatus and learn how to undertake quantitative gut analysis. The latter of these is an essential component of understanding the ecological role of fish species in their respective habitats.


Dynamics of Marine Systems (MARINE 302)

This course considers fundamental processes in the marine environment with an emphasis on interdisciplinary linkages in the functioning of marine ecosystems. Topics include the relationship between light and photosynthetic life in the sea, the role of fluid dynamics in the lives of marine animals and the relationships between physical and biological processes that control coral reef formation.

There is a two-day field trip at the Leigh Marine Laboratory. Included are practical components relating to light quantity and quality and their effects on depth distribution of seaweeds and the role of fluid dynamics in the function and behaviour of marine animals. The practical component includes time spent on the research vessel, RV Haware.


Employment opportunities


Completion of this option could lead to employment in private, governmental (national and local council), not-for-profit (national and international) or academic consulting, teaching, or service opportunities.

Specific areas include:

  • Ecological impact assessment
  • Monitoring marine and estuarine quality
  • Invasive species surveillance
  • Pest control in aquaculture
  • Fishery assessment
  • Marine conservation
  • Planning and managing marine reserves
  • Teaching primary and secondary level students, and
  • Research in marine and coastal ecosystems