We seek to address the growing need to involve people at a young age in projects involving active scientific research, where students participate in data collection, analyses and conclusions, to enhance societal understanding of science and technology as well as promote careers in STEM/STEAM to groups traditionally less represented. In this project we will engage with students from Leigh School to actively contribute to monitoring our coastal ecosystems, by quantifying salps in our case study site: Goat Island Marine Reserve. This will be done through a hands-on experience including underwater data collection and the scientific method, and engage them in co-designing a mobile-learning application to monitor and educate the public on the importance of these organisms.

Photo credit: Lars Plougmann
Salps constitute essential prey items for multiple species of fish (including commercially important species like hoki and oreos), and can play a major role in ocean biogeochemistry by enhancing carbon (CO2) sequestration. In addition, the presence and extent of population blooms has increased in some parts of the world, presumably as a consequence of global warming, making these organisms sentinels of climate change. They are also unique in New Zealand because they seem to predictably bloom during the summer in coastal areas, yet this information is anecdotal and hence constitutes a real opportunity to contribute to globally-relevant marine research.Important to local communities, the presence and abundance of these organisms affects tourist and local enjoyment of marine habitats, as low densities can result in attractive items for underwater experiences, but high densities render diving, fishing, boating and other water activities problematic. We will engage Aotearoa New Zealand students as important long-term STEM/STEAM contributors. Enhancing monitoring in a cost-effective manner would significantly improve our understanding of local salp population dynamics, and educate the public on their coastal ecosystems, health, dynamics, and potential long-term changes.