Marine Biology Course in the Strait of Gibraltar – Travel Report 2017
Text and Photos: Adriana Giger
From the 01st of September to the 09th of September 2017, 19 students from the University of Basel, together with our assistant Tom, and under the leadership of Patricia Holm, visited the Strait of Gibraltar. We were a mixed group of biologists and MSD students (Master of Sustainable Development). The excursion to Tarifa enabled an interdisciplinary exchange of thoughts and interesting discussions about the problems of the world's oceans. The aim of the excursion was also a deeper understanding of the connections between the anthropogenic use of the oceans and their ecology, as well as a critical examination of them.We held various lectures, e. g. about whale watching, overfishing of the red tuna, whaling, plastic pollution, plankton, the interstitial sand system, invasive species and much more. Those who wanted to could also work on their own project, e. g. a biological study.
Thanks to the cooperation and long-time friendship of our professor Mrs. Holm, who is a board member of the International Whaling Commission, with Katharina Heyer, we were able to go out to sea five times with firmm to observe the whales. We saw five of the seven whale species in total. An unforgettable moment was when we saw the Sperm Whale Observador descending and so his fluke could be seen. Once we even saw a fin whale. Each encounter with the whales was special in its own way. We were all thrilled every time a school of dolphins came close to the boat. We also saw sunfish several times.
In addition to whale watching, we were also able to collect plankton samples and examine them under the microscope. We determined the species and learned a lot about the importance of plankton for the marine ecosystem. Among other things, we saw copepods, diatoms, foraminifera, chaetognathes, appendicularia, etc. All the biology students amongst us were very enthusiastic. There was also the opportunity to examine the interstitial sand system.
We also took a look at the organisms from the littoral region, which unfortunately this year was particularly affected by eutrophication and the associated algae bloom. Fortunately, we found a place on the Mediterranean coast just east of Tarifa where there were still enough organisms to study. We also brought some of them to the laboratory, others we examined on site. We saw many species, e. g. polychaetes, marine snails, brittle stars, anemones, sea spiders, ribbon worms, amphipods, etc.
One time, we also carried out a quantitative study of the species composition in the littoral. We were able to clearly determine the zoning of the littoral.
We also visited the local fish market in Tarifa. There we tried to identify as many fish species as possible. We learned more about fishing and local fishing traditions in Spain (Almadraba).
In our free time we were able to swim a few times in the Atlantic Ocean. The excursion was a very educational experience. I had the opportunity to experience biology vividly and to meet many new people. I will never forget the exciting conversations with my fellow students and Mrs. Holm.
I would also like to thank Katharina Heyer on behalf of all the excursion participants for everything she has done for us. Thank you for letting us experience the whales in their natural environment.