I got A* in Marine Science

Why Do Marine Science A level with TRACC 

  • Learning on location – first hand experience of the curriculum rather than reading from a book
  • Experienced teaching staff
  • Great opportunity to learn more about the marine environment whilst helping out on a conservation project
  • Good fun – interactive and practical methods of learning makes learning easier
  • Class in the morning and diving in the afternoon

This year I studied for my Cambridge International 9693 Marine Science A-level at TRACC. The experience of studying at TRACC was great. Firstly, TRACC’s location is perfect for the course – instead of staying in a stuffy classroom and reading from a book, many of the topics in the course were covered with practicals and first-hand experience.

 To learn about mangroves we spent the morning canoeing through the dense mangroves a short distance down the shore from camp, looking out for macaques and monitor lizards as we paddled. To learn about rocky shore zonation and unstable beach environments, we stepped out of our open air sea view classroom and straight onto the beach for an interactive lesson. We spent the morning learning about fish physiology and in the afternoon we went diving to see examples of what we had covered. Fish dissections and fish market surveys all helped consolidate what we learnt in the classroom. By having practical experience right on the classroom doorstep, it made studying much more interactive and interesting.

The experienced teaching staff at TRACC were great and knew how to explain complicated concepts and theories simply. They were always on hand to help and to make studying easier. Completing a 2 year course in 3 months may seem intimidating at first, but with TRACC’s staff full time support this was definitely doable and gave us plenty of time to enjoy ourselves whilst at it.

Studying fringing reefs from the top of a sinking volcano
makes the theory so much more understandable.
Marine science is an interdisciplinary science and this really shows in the curriculum. Topics range from plate tectonics to aquaculture to ecology and this keeps the course interesting and fresh from start to finish. The course goes hand-in-hand with diving and marine conservation - the amount I now know about the world around me while diving has increased dramatically. I’d recommend the course to all divers and volunteers who want to work with the ocean, gain an A level during a gap year or become more knowledgeable divers.
Of course the Marine Science A level also helps understand why TRACC is conserving coral reefs whilst learning more about the environment they are helping to conserve and want to increase their knowledge of the marine world in general. 

I got an A*
Tom Class of 2015

TRACC gets 60% A & A* Grades in the 2015 Marine Science A Level

The A-level results are in and TRACC have had another bumper crop of excellent grades! 100% A*-C with 40% of our students scoring an A*!

Adding this our already impressive history in teaching this diverse and exciting course we now have a (haha) TRACC record of 75% Grades A or A* ! That's a cool 120-140 UCAS points if you need a boost to your British University application. The Cambridge Marine Science (9693) A-level is also well recognized by other institutions around the world.

You may also be interested to know that only 25% of our A-level candidates have had any previous scientific study and 40% have only high school education (age 16 in the UK). The intensive nature of the course, the small class size and the constant availability of the tutors means that this course, and a good grade in it, is well within the grasp of anybody.

TRACC are one of the few non-academic institutions offering this interesting and comprehensive scientific course worldwide. It runs annually for approximately 12 teaching weeks between January and April, culminating immediately in the Cambridge exams in early May. There is literally no way to forget anything since you eat, sleep, breathe (and dive) marine science every day for 12 weeks. Then we have a week of intensive revision followed immediately by the exams.
The course is fieldwork based with lots of practical immersion in the subject.  Check out our trips to study Rocky shoresFisheries, Mangroves, , Coasts, plus underwater biodiversity and ecology studies.
Hard not to be inspired by beaches as beautiful as this.

As though this wasn't enough, the  A-level course includes 12 weeks accommodation on our certifiably beautiful beach and PADI Open Water and Advanced Open Water as well. PLUS we have amazing macro marine life,  turtles nesting on the beach...++

The 2016 Marine Science A-level will be running from 18th January - 2nd May (following the Cambridge exam timetable). 

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Stormy Seas

Here at TRACC we are sometimes limited by weather conditions. Strong currents, surge and as a result - poor visibility, can make our shallower work dives impossible to undertake. Yesterday just so happened to have the tri-factor. As a result the main activities for the day were as follows.

Beach clean
Beach clean activity is pretty self-explanatory; we as a group walk the beach picking up rubbish. The majority of the group picks up lose fragments of debris – top of the list includes lighters, straws, plastic bottles, plastic bags and nappies! All of which can be ingested by a range of sea creatures. As Pompom island has a relatively high density of green and hawksbills turtles (which are endangered and critically endangered according to recent IUCN figures), any debris that has the potential to choke them is obviously a concern of ours.

In addition to picking up human waste we also try and reduce the amount of wood is on the beach. Even though this may be a natural form of debris we still remove the majority of it. This is done for two reasons.  First and foremost is that Pompom islands nesting turtle population have issues navigating around the logs. By using the chainsaw to cut up and move the wood into piles, it increases ease of access for the turtles to get to their nesting grounds. By increasing ease of access to the nesting sites we increase the likelihood of turtles nesting on this beach (very beneficial as many of the neighboring islands have close to 100% egg poaching rates).  The second reason we do this is…. we do like a nice bonfire every now and again.

Step reef construcction
Step reefs are TRACC own design, made from concrete and recycled bottles. They are artificial reefs specifically designed to be deployed on a slope – to our knowledge a world first! For more information on step reefs click here.

Kit led the entire camp on how to make our new step reefs. Allowing volunteers to experience the life history of a step reef. Turning unused glass bottles and cement to permanent artificial reef structures.  Now we just need to wait for the weather to settle down and we can deploy them.

Drift dive survey

‘If you can’t beat them, join them’ a saying that also works for currents. We have data from 2011 about densities of the following fish species- titan triggerfish, groupers, black and white snappers, long nosed emperors and mauri wrasse. Survey methods were as simple as a drift dive in a defined area, counting each of defined fishes. Initial data has shown an increase in densities of all of these – which were expecting to finds as fishing activity has been significantly reduced over the last 2 years. Data collection on this will continue to further strength our data as well as track any future progress.  

What the Turtle Volunteers have been up to

About 25% of TRACC volunteers from May-September come to monitor the turtle nesting. It isn't possible to dive all day and walk round the island all night so this program is specifically for people who want to do some conservation without the expense (in either money or energy) of diving and reef restoration. They walk quietly round our lovely little island in the silence of the night and then snorkel peacefully in the heat of the day.

The turtle volunteers are also conducting in-water turtle surveys to monitor the turtle population and activity around the island. We've found that the green turtles outnumber the hawksbills by 10:1, but that the population dynamic is different. The green turtles are transitory adults; spending their days sleeping and eating in the shallows, mating and nesting. The hawksbill turtles tend to be resident, active juveniles.

Once the female greens are ready, they haul themselves up the beach and wander round it (often for hours) trying to find the perfect place to lay their precious eggs. We don't have any photos of this because any sort of disturbance at this point will have them beating a hasty retreat. So our turtle volunteers sit in the dark waiting for the girl to be ready.

Finally, when everything is perfect she settles into a semi-trance and starts to lay her eggs. She lays anywhere from 30-150 eggs depending on her age and how long she's been holding them. Often a female will return to the beach and go through the nesting process two or three times before she's finished for the season.

At this point the volunteers get face down in the sand for the enviable privilege of catching turtle eggs straight out of the mother. The eggs are all collected carefully and transferred to the island hatchery where they are safe from human poachers. There are no natural predators of turtle eggs on the island and if it wasn't for poaching the nests could be safely left in situ to develop naturally.

Although turtles are totally protected species and there are stiff penalties for taking their eggs, the local stateless people have very few economic opportunities. The poaching of turtle eggs is a major source of revenue for them but a major threat to turtle conservation.

All credits to Wirginia Romanowicz-Basiak for the photos.

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Soft coral rubble slope consolidation experiment

Pompom Island
As mentioned in the previous blog post, Pompom island marine environment has large areas where the benthic type is that of a mobile rubble slope. This degraded ecosystem is caused by dynamite fishing and generally has lower biodiversity and fish density than the coral environment that preceded it. Here at TRACC we are working upon methodologies to consolidate the rubble with the hopes of returning it to the bio-diverse hotspot it once was. Mobile rubble slopes present a difficult ecosystem for recolonizing of hard corals as newly settled recruits often attach to a mobile piece of rubble and end up rolling down the slope. Currently at TRACC we are using soft coral replantation techniques to consolidate the rubble slope. Whitney Hoot and myself decided to investigate this and see what effect, if any, the soft coral was having upon the slope.

Firstly 3 different sites upon the north east side of the island (house reef) were chosen. Sites were selected based on the following criteria; benthic cover type (rubble), depth (~5m), slope angle (between 34-45 degrees), distance below reef crest (1-2 meters) and crest characteristics (no coral heads etc.).

Once sites were selected, 3 nets were deployed measuring 2x8 meters. To each of these nets two treatments and a control was added (thank you to all the volunteers who participated in this). Treatments included cabling tying soft coral to the net, cable tying bare rubble to the next and a control on each side of the net.

After nets had been put in place and quality control had been completed,  121 pieces of labeled and painted rubble fragments were randomly added to the top of the quadrats in each net. This was also repeated for the bottom of the nets using differently painted corals. Our plan now is to track the progress of the rubble movement over time to and see if there are any significant changes.

As well as rubble movement every individual coral colonies was photographed , ID’d and measured using imageJ software. Recording colony height, soft coral density and number of runners will allow us to monitor the growth and survival rates of all the soft corals in the experiment. And lastly i will monitor the benthic community structure that follows due to the change in environment. 

A speedy nudibranch rushes to see what we're upto

Whitneys ingenious labeling methodology

A beautiful sunset to mark the end of experiment preparation

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Step Reef re-design

Step reef 2.0

Initial design
Here at TRACC we are actively working to restore our marine environment. Around our island there has been catastrophic damage caused by historic dynamite fishing. Due to this destructive fishing practice, the reef slope has been degraded to a mobile rubble slope environment with little 3D complexity. This drastically reduces the biodiversity of the reef crest and provides little shelter to larval fish. It is not all bad news though, the rubble environment often has hard corals try colonize and when successful coral growth is consistent. In 2013 we built trial step reefs, our goal was to build a sturdy 3D artificial reef, on a slope environment. This had the aim to both provide 3D complexity and a stable benthic substrate for corals to attach and grow onto. Upon our return we found that our initial test wasn’t 100% successful. Many had rolled down the reef slope due to turtles using them as scratch posts. 

Itchy turtle making a mess!

Step reef re- design

One of the first things we noticed was that, in general, the trial step reefs which were larger , were more stable. This lead to the idea of interlocking each individual block with the one both its left and right, this in effect makes every layer of the step reef one large stable block. This is achieved by leaving gaps between the individual blocks, with the plan to initially cable tie them and then cement these once the blocks are in place under the water.  Massive and encrusting corals will be put in the unset cement with the hope that they would grow to envelop the two blocks, creating a biological adhesion that will only become stronger over time.

The next area we chose to strengthen was between layers. A simple and effect method of using recycled stakes to hold each step in place was used. There by removing the possibility of shallower step reefs rolling downhill over deeper step reefs.   

Step reef from every angle

interlocking layers

When the step reef is in place we add biscuits (basically a coral plant pot) from our coral nursery.

For more about coral biscuits and nursery, click here

As you can tell from the picture below, he step reefs are strong enough to support the weight of our step reef primary engineer, Kit! Hopefully our new step reefs trials will be totally successful,. [blog posts on this topic to come]. I personally cannot wait to start deploying these.

Nice and Sturdy

For more information, please check our website or e-mail info@tracc-borneo.org

The main website is at http://tracc-borneo.org
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