Biology Links

Centre of Excellence in Aquaculture and Marine Ecology (CEAME)

A partnership approach to training students by the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA) and the School of Biological Sciences, UC, lead to the formation of the Centre of Excellence in Aquaculture and Marine Ecology (CEAME).

The objectives of CEAME

  • promote and enhance excellence in aquaculture and marine ecological research
  • attract the best students nationally and internationally
  • train students at the postgraduate level by sharing and using the joint expertise of university and NIWA personnel
  • attract funding to support student training and research
  • provide opportunities for students to do research with NIWA scientists in established and new programmes
  • increase collaborative linkages between NIWA and the university.

Information for Students

A broad range of disciplines are covered by CEAME, including mathematics and engineering. 

Funding is available for both personal support through scholarships and operational support for field-based work. Students are situated in offices on the NIWA campuses in Wellington and Christchurch and given full access to NIWA facilities.

Solving environmental problems, usually with links to industry, is a hallmark of the student projects, with emphasis on attacking these problems within the larger conceptual and theoretical issues of marine science.

Student research being done in CEAME is being fed into the ecological modelling done by others, a significant advantage of the “centre” approach. As the projects expand there has been an expansion of supervisory affiliates from NIWA and the university.

CEAME provides a useful middle ground in curiosity-driven science between the smaller projects that characterise marine science in the university and the often highly applied science of NIWA.

Contact Details

Contact: Professor David R Schiel
Phone: +64 3 364 2031
E-mail: david.schiel@canterbury.ac.nz

Previous Student Projects

MSc projects have included:

  • the energetics of mussel feeding
  • flatfish aquaculture
  • moulting and growth in rock lobsters

PhD projects have included:

  • growing sponges in aquaculture for the production of pharmaceuticals
  • increasing production of mussels in aquaculture through the control of mussel stocks
  • effects of grazing by micro-zooplankton on the production of phytoplankton around mussel farms
  • the effects of mussel farms on nutrients and plankton production
  • dynamic modelling of oyster production in aquaculture
  • intertidal, rocky shore ecology, with an emphasis on human-induced impacts.

Research Details

Sustainability of Cultured Fisheries programme

Several of the student projects have been related to NIWA’s large Sustainability of Cultured Fisheries programme. This has the very practical goal of determining the extent to which aquaculture can be expanded in the Marlborough Sounds without deleterious effects, and also, will help with understanding how nutrients flow through a nearshore marine system.

The enclosed nature of the Marlborough Sounds is an ideal environment to analyse such ecosystem processes and allows CEAME to train students in oceanographic techniques without the expensive vessels and gear required for work in the open ocean.

Mesocosm experiments

Doing experiments in natural embayments is challenging because most of the variables of importance operate at large scales through complex ecosystem pathways. One way to sort through these processes experimentally is to use “mesocosms”. These are essentially very large plastic enclosures that are suspended from floating collars from the sea surface and extend sometimes to the seabed. The seawater within the mesocosms can then be subjected to different experimental treatments such as added nutrients, additional animal activity and varied light regimes.

Examples of mesocosm experiments include:

Nitrogen, the most important nutrient for aquaculture

Nitrogen is a natural fertiliser of most New Zealand coastal systems, and is variable in supply throughout the year but is essential to phytoplankton (microscopic algae) growth.

Mussels feed almost entirely on these small plants so their growth and the overall production of the mussel industry rely on these processes. Adding to the complexity are zooplankton (microscopic animals) that graze on phytoplankton, potentially competing with mussels, but are themselves eaten by larger predators.

One CEAME project used replicate mesocosms (link above to mesocosm experiments) holding 850 litres of seawater each to test the effects of different nitrogen concentrations on phytoplankton production with and without mussels feeding. In winter, when there were adequate nutrients in the sea, additional nitrogen had no effect on phytoplankton production but in summer, when nitrogen in the sea was in short supply, additional nitrogen, even in small quantities, had a significant effect on phytoplankton and therefore on mussel food. Combined with physical measurements of current flow and direction, these sorts of experimental results lead to predictions of overall food production and food depletion by mussels in coastal embayments.

Mesocosm experiments were used in another CEAME project to test the extent to which zooplankton compete with mussels for food in embayments. Zooplankton and mussels were added in differing ratios to mesocosms and the effect on phytoplankton was studied. The results were surprising, showing processes in the plankton were more complicated than first thought. For instance, even jellyfish will play a significant role by removing larger zooplankton, which in turn affect smaller zooplankton which feed on phytoplankton. These so-called trophic processes, therefore, can affect mussel food production.