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The Blue Planet effect: why marine biology courses are booming

Jan 12, 2018 by

Thanks in part to the BBC wildlife series, there has been a sea change in the popularity of marine biology courses and the study of the world’s oceans

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When she was just 12 years old, an impressionable Cathy Lucas, now associate professor in marine biology at the University of Southampton, met Sir David Attenborough. He’d come to talk to students about his 1979 landmark wildlife series Life on Earth. “I thrust him my copy of his book to sign. He inspired me to go on and study zoology.”

Just back from a research trip to Saudi Arabia, she’s since spent years investigating what makes jellyfish tick – programme makers at the BBC’s latest natural history series Blue Planet II sought her expertise for a segment. Although jellyfish have been around for at least 500m years, they’ve remained the poor relation of marine life, often misrepresented as freakish, alien blobs, says Lucas.

But recent population blooms have piqued scientists’ interest. “Attention is focused on what’s driving this growth in numbers – and the effect this has on the oceans.” Invited to a screening of the Blue Planet II series, she once again heard Attenborough speak and thought: “Here I am, doing this, as my actual job.”

Lucas teaches students on Southampton’s marine biology degrees based at the National Oceanography Centre. Like many universities around the country, Southampton is noticing the “Blue Planet effect” on the numbers of students interested in the field. “Big series such as these are critical in raising awareness of the issues facing marine wildlife,” says Lucas.

Even between the first and second series, there have been dramatic changes in the oceans, says David Duffy, a research fellow at Bangor University. “Most of these changes can be traced back to human activity, which is having a devastating impact.”

Duffy is working with scientists at the Sea Turtle hospital in the Whitney laboratory for marine bioscience at the University of Florida, investigating the huge rise in cases of young turtles suffering cancerous tumours. “Numbers worldwide are skyrocketing and this is almost certainly due to human activity, but we don’t know exactly what activity,” he says.

Source: The Blue Planet effect: why marine biology courses are booming | Education | The Guardian

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