St. Mary’s BIO-317 students get hands on experience at Deep Bay Marine Field Station as part of field study trip

Taking educational lessons out of the classroom and into the field with experiential learning is a cornerstone of the St. Mary’s University Biology Program. This year students in the BIO-317 Introduction to Marine Biology spent their Reading Work getting invaluable real-world experience at the Deep Bay Marine Field Station, part of Vancouver Island University (VIU) located between Comox and Nanaimo on the east coast of Vancouver Island.

In addition to regular lectures throughout the semester, the field study trip serves as the lab portion of the course and condenses 39 hours of lab work over four days, a tall task but one that Dr. Mary Ann McLean, Associate Professor, Biology and her students were more than happy to tackle.

“It’s really exciting to see the species in their native habitat,” said McLean. “Hands-on experience is hugely important for students. Most people learn things better hands-on. It’s a completely different experience to be there and work hard, digging, carefully identifying, seeing how many species there are and how they live in that environment and recording abundances, distances, sediment size etc accurately.”

In addition to the hands-on learning experience, the field study affords students an introduction to a completely unfamiliar marine habitat while serving to introduce students to shellfish (oyster, clam, scallop) aquaculture on the coast.

A central purpose of the field-study trip was to allow students a chance to collect a large dataset of on the biodiversity of the beach explained MacLean. From this dataset each student can develop a hypothesis and test it using the dataset and write a paper about their findings.

“The field research makes it easier to write a research paper because I am able to relate it to my personal experience,” said Haley Field, who participated in the field study trip. “It allowed me to pick a topic I am genuinely interested in and expand my knowledge on things we learned in the field.”

For fellow student Hanna Garcia the trip to the Deep Bay Marine Field Station helped reinforce and enhance the subject matter that was learned in the classroom at St. Mary’s.

“All the lectures that we had were so important,” explained Garcia. “I think the best part was learning about in the classroom and then being able to apply it. I loved how the lab was such an important part and being able to actually see the different creatures and organisms that are present in B.C. is so cool.”

Taking the knowledge gained in class and seeing it in action was also a highlight for St. Mary’s student Pedro Lomba who was also appreciated learning about the importance of the clam industry in B.C.

“The learning experience was incredible,” said Lomba. “Being able to apply the actual classification knowledge we learned both at St. Mary’s and at Deep Bay was a nice change of pace, as we got to see, firsthand, the organisms we’d only seen via images before and see some of the principles we’d learned in action!”

“One thing that I wasn’t really aware of at all before our trip to Deep Bay was the clam industry in B.C. It was fascinating to see how the clam industry mostly uses introduced clam species, how clean that method of food production is, and how climate change was tangibly affecting clam growth/survivability via acidification and heat waves.”

The trip also provided students with insight into different careers and opportunities that McLean believes really piqued the attending students’ interests.

“[The trip] exposed the students to another whole set of jobs & vocations,” said McLean. “Who knew shellfish aquaculture was a big industry on the east coast of Vancouver Island? None of us did. You could see the students prick up their ears when they learned that VIU offers an after degree diploma in aquaculture.”

Learning about VIU’s research on aquaculture was a noted highlight for Garcia who was surprised by the opportunities that are available after completing studies in this field.

“Learning about how much research VIU is doing in aquaculture was the coolest part of this trip,” said Garcia. “It was amazing because it opened my mind to the amount of opportunities there are with this degree! They talked about job opportunities and I think that really opened my mind and made me realize how much more is out there.”

For students looking for practical, hands on learning, Lomba highly recommends the BIO-317 course and the opportunity to participate in the Deep Bay opportunity.

“I made some incredible memories here, and had a blast while doing so! I’d recommend this for any students who really want to try a hands on approach in the field like I did.”