Students of the University of Basel are visiting firmm

by Heike Pahlow

Photos: Karen Bussmann, Nadine Freuler, Manuela Flattich, Roger Langenegger, Heike Pahlow

At the end of June firmm once again welcomed 16 students of the Master course Sustainable Development and their lecturers. During the Marine Biology Excursion in Tarifa, an intensive and varied program awaited all participants.

Students of the University of Basel in Tarifa
Students of the University of Basel in Tarifa

How can we use our planet's resources without compromising the opportunities of future generations? This is the question that the students of the Master's course in Sustainable Development at the University of Basel are dealing with. For 15 years now, a week-long trip to firmm in Tarifa has been an essential part of the program. This year too it was organized and led by our foundation board member Prof. Dr. Patricia Holm.

Why Tarifa?

Tarifa is the ideal place to engage in sustainable development: As the only link between the Atlantic and the Mediterranean, the Strait of Gibraltar concentrates shipping traffic - with all its impact on the environment. Many locals still live from fishing, and tourism also plays an important role. Windmills are a distinctive feature of this windy city, but in spring and autumn also many migratory birds cross this area. Andalusia supplies the whole of Europe with fresh fruit and vegetables, but therefore contributes a large part to the plastic flood in the Mediterranean - apart from bad working conditions and lack of water in the region ...

Vortrag einer Teilnehmerin
Lectures of the participants in the Casa de la Cultura (Cultural Centre) de Tarifa

A lot of material for a one-week excursion; but the participants came well prepared.
In accordance with the local environment, individual topics were examined in more detail in conferences and discussions, for example::

  • respectful whale watching
  • today's threats to marine mammals
  • sustainable fishery
  • construction and extension of ports
  • Law of the Sea Convention
  • noise pollution of the seas
  • geology of the Strait of Gibraltar
  • littoral flora and fauna (tidal zones)

More than only theory

Studenten im Litoral
Full commitment in the littoral

Of course, the main purpose of the trip was to impart a lot of practical knowledge. On the rocky coast off Tarifa, the students gained an impression of the importance of the littoral as a habitat for certain animal and plant species. An essential point when we think, for example, of the expansion of harbours or the invasive algae that threaten the ecosystem off Tarifa.

In addition to various types of algae, the littoral is home to barnacles, limpets, mussels, crabs, hermit crabs, anemones and shrimps. You can also spot sea cucumbers, nudibranchs and flatworms. During the week, the students specialized in different categories and finally learnt how to carry out inventory surveys using the transect method - i.e. to examine a certain area square metre by square metre.

Excursions to the fish market of Tarifa also offered the opportunity to learn more about the fish species that can be found in this area and to see special features up close.

Giants and tiny creatures of the Seas

Plankton under the mikroscope
Plankton under the mikroscope

What would a journey to firmm be without whales and dolphins! The nice weather made some great trips possible, and even the orcas showed up. With the help of their own sighting protocols, the students were able to gain practical experience in data acquisition and later compared their results with the protocols of firmm's president Katharina Heyer. It turned out that a good eye and a lot of experience is necessary for reliable data.

Although whale watching was certainly one of the highlights of the program, the microscopic plankton plays the main role in the marine ecosystem. Here, too, there was time for studies: in the accommodation the samples collected during the trips were examined under the microscope, drawn and discussed.

On the picture under the microscope you can see, among other things, copepods (the larger animals), dinoflagellates (with the three "antennas") and acantharea (the star-shaped structures).



Environmental pollution, scarcity of resources, extinction of species, climate change - the effects of our actions on the environment are becoming increasingly noticeable. For sustainable solutions, we need experts in politics and economy who not only approach problems from a single point of view, but who also take ecological, economic and social aspects into account. The University of Basel trains exactly these experts and we at firmm are proud to be part of this important program.

We wish everyone a successful graduation and many sustainable ideas for the future of all of us.

Here are some travel reports from previous excursions:

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