Aquaculture Academy students at Picton’s Queen Charlotte College are using a Remotely-Operated Vehicle (ROV) to see if the sea squirt, which has invaded nearby Shakespeare Bay, is damaging mussel beds.
The initiative is part of an academy research project. ROV findings are recorded onto DVD, which is then used for analysis in the classroom. ROV footage has also been sent to the Cawthron Institute in Nelson, the Mussel Industry Council (NZMic) and the Marine Farming Association (NZMFA) for further investigation. All of these, along with Biosecurity NZ and MAF, are encouraging the students to continue monitoring the invasive mat-like organism’s presence locally.
The sea squirt has been invading coastal waters in many countries, including New Zealand, and can smother other sea-life. The concern is that it could overtake mussel beds and damage the local economy.
The ROV has helped in monitoring the sea-squirt and recording its reach — something that would have been impossible to do in a similar time-frame just by diving because of constraints on dive-time. Although most of the college’s Aquaculture Academy students can dive, for those who can’t the ROV footage is very useful as it means all students can then study the potentially bad effects the sea squirt might have on the local mussel industry.
The ROV project has also developed students’ social skills as they have had to work together, and also with adults from the marine industry and research institutions. The monitoring and processing of data has also improved the overall IT skills of both students and college staff.
The college is now looking at constructing home-made ROVs that can be used as deep as ten metres below the surface.
The Aquaculture Academy was set up by local industry players and the Picton college in 2003. A three-year course, it develops marine industry-relevant skills and leads to higher honours for students. Almost 20% of the school is now enrolled in the academy.