Spending a morning with teacher Tim Muir and students at Taroona High School near Hobart made us very jealous. We were writing a story for NRM South about baseline marine monitoring the kids were carrying out thanks to a Naturally Inspired Grant. School was never this much fun when we were young!
The closure of a sewage treatment plant might seem like an unusual way to kickstart a marine monitoring project, but that’s exactly what’s happening down near Taroona High School using funds from NRM South’s Naturally Inspired Grants program.
The Taroona treatment plant sits next to a marine research centre and foreshore walking track, and is being decommissioned because of ageing infrastructure.
Tim Muir is a teacher at Taroona High School and runs the Exploring the Ocean program with fellow teacher Jamieson Smalley.
Both are working on the marine monitoring project, which is the brainchild of the school, the Taroona Environment Network and local marine environment consulting firm Aquenal.
“Over its 40 year lifespan the plant has had a number of impacts on the surrounding coastal environment, and our project will help measure changes to marine and coastal life once the plant is fully decommissioned,” says Tim.
“The project presents an amazing opportunity to monitor the underwater natural values of Taroona, teach high school students about monitoring techniques, and encourage them to think about marine science as a career path.”
Funds from the Naturally Inspired Grants progam have been used to establish three monitoring sites, all within 1.5 kilometres of each other, that are being used by students from grades 9 and 10 to detect environmental change caused by the decommissioning of the Taroona Wastewater Treatment Plant.
The funds are also helping the students be part of a project that will document the natural values of the local marine environment, something that hasn’t been done in this area before.
They will get a chance to snorkel out to monitoring sites, learn about local marine flora and fauna, how to identify fish and algal species, and develop the sort of skills that will prepare them for future studies in science.
The students will also actively monitor the effects of climate change on the shallow waters directly off Taroona.
“This project is giving the kids practical, hands on experience in marine taxonomy, scientific sampling and analysis,” says Tim.
“They are becoming part of a process that develops a wider appreciation of the underwater values of these areas, and contribute to a better understanding of how we can conserve natural ecological systems.
“They are also contributing to what we know of protected species such as weedy seadragons, seahorses and pipe fish.”
Subtidal surveys are being complemented by intertidal surveys along the foreshore.
Sean Riley is part of the Taroona Environment Network and also works at Aquenal. He has been instrumental in getting the project off the ground.
“I took a couple of experienced divers into those waters recently and they emerged saying it’s one of the best dives they’ve ever done in terms of fish life and algal cover,” he says.
Sean is just as passionate about getting the kids involved in marine science as he is about what lies beneath our marine waters.
“To me this project is very much about the kids. It will help skill them up for future career paths, and also start them thinking about different conservation issues.”
The NRM South grant covers the first year of baseline monitoring, but there are high hopes that Taroona High School and the local community will continue with the monitoring for at least three years.