Bachelor of Science (Honours) in Environmental Science
David Booth, Vic Peddemors, Barry Bruce
Honours project title
Age, growth and philopatry of the Great White Shark (Carcharadon carcharias) in southern Australia.
Describe your honours project
This project aims to find out more about one of the most mysterious and intriguing sharks in our ocean: the Great White. The biology and ecology of this notorious species is poorly understood, though studies indicate that their population in Australia has declined over the past few decades, leading to a listing as a vulnerable species under the government's Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation act. Studying this species is also difficult due to their transoceanic migration habits, rarity of encounters and protected status.
This study utilises access to a sample set of white shark vertebrae which is unprecedented in its size and scale investigate different aspects of their life history. By learning more about how these animals grow and how they behave in our coastal habitats we can adapt fisheries approaches and management plans to ensure that this ecologically important predator does not follow the path of many other species since the beginning of the industrial age: that of extinction. Such a change to the structure of the ocean's complex food web would also have unseen flow-on effects and impacts on the marine environment.
What is the aim of your project?
This project has three aims. The first is to use new techniques to age vertebrae and design a growth curve for population of white sharks in Australia. From this we can estimate important factors such as longevity, age at maturity and growth rate. The second is to investigate microchemical dynamics in the vertebral tissue over time. This would be indicative of changes in water chemistry that the shark has travelled to over time and may give insight into movement patterns.
The third is to determine if elemental signals can be detected which would indicate philopatric behaviour (the tendancy of the animal to return repeatedly to a particular location) to a site believed to be of ecological importance to juvenile white sharks. If such a behaviour can be discovered it will help assist management strategies of both the species and specific coastal areas.
Why did you choose to pursue an honours degree as opposed to going into the work force? Why this area of research?
I am currently pursuing a career in scientific research, and I'm doing the honours project to see if I want to go on to do a PhD. Mostly however I'm doing it because I enjoy scientific discovery, the scientific community and the field work! I've been passionate about shark conservation for a while now. While on exchange in Mexico I went diving the great whites at Guadalupe Island. As soon as I saw them I knew they were different to other sharks. I started bugging academics about potential honours projects and luckily for me one came up at the right time.
What is your daily activity?
My project is very diverse, so it involves travel to different areas such as Tasmania to collect samples. I work in different labs doing hands on things such as cutting vertebrae to using multimillion dollar microCT machine to do imaging scans to playing with hi-tech lasers to do microchemical studies. All this lab work is combined with long hours at home or in the honours office at uni doing research, analysing the data and writing up reports. In between I work at the aquarium and take time to relax and have fun.
What attracted you to research at UTS Science?
The academics I met while studying my undergraduate degree at UTS are interesting, intelligent, respected and talented individuals. There are some characters as well. I was inspired by the work being done and the tight-knit feel in the School of the Environment. I feel that UTS is well placed in terms of scientific research among the other institutions in Sydney.
I plan to go on to study a PhD either at UTS or another university which has collaborations with researchers here. This may be for a project with white sharks or another shark species, though I'm interested in so many different aspects of marine science. Hopefully this will involve some overseas placement at some stage, preferrably in a spanish-speaking country. I plan to continue pursuing scientific research for as long as I continue to love it.
What interests you most about Science or Mathematics?
I think scientific research is vitally important for understanding the world we live in and our place in it. Knowledge is a critical first step to things like compassion and constructive action. Once your eyes are opened to the wonders and potenial of science, you can't go back, especially in times like these when understanding the environment the impacts of human behaviour is becoming so important.
What is the best thing about your Honours year?
The freedom of not having to attend classes and working at your own pace. Oh, and the honours budget. Unlike previously in the undergraduate degree you start to feel like a bonafide scientist.
What is the best thing about your School/or Supervisors?
The people in the department and my honours cohort really make the pressure and challenge of the honours year bearable.
What advice would you give a student thinking of Honours?
If you're passionate about science and you fancy yourself to be a potentially capable researcher then go for it, you never know until you test yourself. It's alot of fun and opens your eyes to so much more.
Find out more about Bachelor of Science (Hons) in Environmental Science.