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Nr. 99, 06.07.2019  voriger  Übersicht  weiter

Seagrass meadows on the other side of the world

Intercultural and interdisciplinary summer school – geography students at Kiel University studied the tropical coastal wetlands of Malaysia.


Visiting a CEMACS project on the sustainable aquaculture of oysters in mangroves. Creit: Ingmar Unkel

Mangrove forests and waterfalls, but also seagrass meadows and ebb and flow – the tropical marine world of Malaysia has more in common with our coasts than initially supposed. This is what ten female geography students from Kiel University were able to find out for themselves in March. Together with Malaysian biology students, they spent two weeks studying the coastal wetland in the north of the peninsula of West Malaysia within the framework of the first “International Field School on Tropical Biodiversity and Wetland Environments”.

“It was an amazing experience, both the interdisciplinary work and the insight into this exciting culture,” said Luisa Britzius. “You gather together a crazy load of impressions and also learn to look beyond the end of your nose.” The 27 year old studying for a Master’s Degree in Environmental Geography and Management was one of the summer school participants from Kiel.

The students studied the marine ecosystem on the island of Penang and in the Royal Belum National Park on the border with Thailand. Among other things, they analysed oxygen consumption by micro-organisms in the water and charted the seagrass meadows, i.e. looked at which plants are growing there, how widespread they are, and what animals live there. In addition, they travelled around the mangroves and visited a sustainable aquaculture project. The cooperation with the Malaysian students went very well, said Britzius. “Especially in terms of the laboratory work, we were able to pick up a lot from the biology students as they do this more often in their studies than us geography students.”

Seagrass – whether in the Baltic Sea or off the coast of Malaysia – is important to the survival of the marine ecosystem. Many species lay their eggs in seagrass. Young fish hide from predators between its long blades. It also stores large amounts of carbon dioxide, releases oxygen into the water and stabilises the sediment on the seabed. Yet seagrass meadows are at risk across the globe as a result of over-fertilisation, increased water temperatures and fishing with trawl nets, for example.

Luisa Britzius (back left) charting a seagrass meadow on the island of Pulau Gazumbo. Credit: Ingmar Unkel

Professor Ingmar Unkel from the Institute for Ecosystem Research at Kiel University planned and organised the summer school, together with colleagues from the Centre for Marine and Coastal Studies (CEMACS) at Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM) and the Wadden Sea Station Sylt of the Alfred Wegener Institute (AWI). He thought the intercultural and interdisciplinary exchange went very well, too. “The students were so enthusiastic that they actually wanted to put more input into the initial phase that we had planned. We can still expand a bit further on this.”

Next year Unkel wants to repeat the summer school – here in Kiel and on Sylt. “If it works, we want to run the field school in Malaysia and here in Schleswig-Holstein on alternate years.” This is because this practical application is unbelievably important, he said, “to actually go out and be there on site, to see the dimensions and take measurements yourself.” The project is funded by Kiel University’s internationalisation fund, the Partnership for Observation of the Global Ocean and the Nippon Foundation.

Marina Kosmalla
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