Study Marine Science in Australia

Where else but Australia would you study marine science? The island continent of Australia has it all. Australia has a land area of just under 8 million square kilometres (about the size of the continental United States), but the Australian Exclusive Economic Zone in the sea is 50% larger. Who has not heard of the Great Barrier Reef, by far the largest coral reef in the world?

Study Marine Science in Australia

Relatively unknown is Ningaloo Reef in northwestern Western Australia. At 260 km long, Ningaloo is the largest fringing reef in the world. Isolated coral reef atolls occur offshore of Western Australia and in the Great Barrier Reef. There are extensive and diverse mangroves along the north coast, ranging from the wet tropics mangroves in northern Queensland to the arid zone mangroves of Western Australia. The north coast of the continent is part of the vast Indo-West Pacific biogeographic zone, so most of the plants and animals in this vast region can be studied in Australia.

Further south there are world-class seagrass beds that are both extensive and diverse. Southern estuaries range in size from very small to very large. Many of the smaller ones are closed for varying periods by sand bars, creating unusual habitats. Macroalgae are abundant on southern rocky reefs. The level of endemism is very high in southern Australian waters, with more than 70% of the known marine species only found in this part of the world. The east and west coasts of the continents have smaller, but significant, areas of endemism. Intertidal sand and rocky shores extend along the entire coastline, both in the tropical north and the temperate south. In addition, Australia has a significant research presence in the Antarctic.

The Leeuwin Current, which flows southward off Western Australia, is the only pole ward flowing current on the west coast of a continent. When the current reaches Cape Leeuwin on the southwestern edge of the continent it runs east and can be traced as far as Bass Strait between Victoria and Tasmania. While the presence of the current was suspected for a considerable period, the Leeuwin Current was only scientifically described in 1980. It is now known to be the largest unidirectional current system in the world. The Leeuwin Current has significant effects on the Australian climate and marine systems. These are only now becoming fully understood.

The oceans are critical to the Australian economy. Over 99% of the freight moving into or out of the country is by sea. Valuable fisheries and aquaculture industries occur in many areas. The current resources boom is dependent on ocean transport, and many of the petrochemical developments are occurring far out to sea.

Australians have a natural affinity for the sea. Over 83% of the 20 million Australians live in coastal cities or local government areas on the coast. Boating, fishing, surfing, and many other aquatic activities are keys to the Australian outdoor culture. The affinity for the sea means that it is very accessible in many areas. On the other hand there are many areas up north that have hardly been explores by marine scientists.

Australian universities are world class. University staff come from many countries, many being trained in Australia and others overseas. There are extensive networks and research teams that provide students, particularly graduate students, with access to researchers from a variety of institutions. The three dozen universities are spread throughout the continent. Naturally most are in the large cities of the southeast.

However, James Cook University in Townsville provides easy access to northern Queensland. Charles Darwin University in Darwin is on the north coast, and the universities in Perth provide an opening into the vast areas of Western Australia. Staff of Australian Government institutions such as the Australian Institute of Marine Science, the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), the Australian Antarctic Division, and many others serve as external advisors to students, and provide access to their facilities and laboratories, as do State and Territory government scientists. Combined, the Australian universities and government departments offer a wealth of educational opportunities for students.

The Australian Marine Sciences Association has compiled an outstanding booklet Careers in Marine Science that provides up to date information on career opportunities in marine sciences in the country and where these can be studied. It is available on the web at www.amsa.asn.au/pubs/CIMS/index.php. Careers has Internet links to all of the Australian universities, major government departments working in marine science, and other organisations. A consortium of Australian universities and the Australian Museum provide a National Degree in Marine Science. Information on this program is available at www.tmnonline.net. In the southeast, the Victorian Marine Science Consortium of five universities offers programs in Queenscliff, near Melbourne (www.vmsc.org).

Australia is a great place to do marine sciences. Think about it!

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