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Courses that Change Your Life: Marine Biology (BIOL 318)

Posted by Paul Wiemerslage in College Program in Faculty | Oct 19, 2015

Humans are land dwellers. Our reference points, our expressions, and our spatial perspectives all reveal that we consider land our “home,” and we have studied the biology of land well. Marine systems, although they cover most of the Earth, are not places where we live. But they are the abode of millions of unique species; the exact number and types is still being discovered.

Au Sable’s offering in Marine Biology provides a fascinating introduction to the species and systems that comprise marine life. Offered in the coastal environment provided by Au Sable’s Pacific Rim Campus on Whidbey Island (Washington), Marine Biology provides opportunity for firsthand study of marine creatures, especially in the intertidal realm prevalent on the Whidbey Island coast, the eelgrass communities of adjoining shallow water zones, and marine communities associated with the island communities of Puget Sound. These biological systems, which can be studied firsthand at this location, provide students with examples of how to comprehend broader concepts and theories of marine community structure, population management and exploitation, oceanic microbialization and marine biogeochemical cycles and processes.

Tim Wakefield, Professor of Biology at John Bown University (Arkansas), brings his lifelong experience and study of marine systems to every student in Marine Biology. A recognized expert on cell-to-cell interactions between marine invertebrates, as well as a former trainer of bottlenose dolphins, Tim’s recent studies have “moved up” to investigations of orcas (killer whales) and the effects of “whale watching” on their populations. A student from the 2013 class noted, ”One element of the course that really helped was spending a lot of time in the field and seeing what we were learning about, within its ecological context. It was much more helpful for learning than simply talking about it. It was also beneficial that the instructor talked about relationships between organisms, as well as their interactions, when we identified organisms in the field so that we could understand the role of the organism in its habitat.” Drawing on his own experience of teaching, research and working in the field of marine biology, Tim believes that the most valuable element of the course is helping students make the connections between land and sea.  “Many students have little to no knowledge of how the marine environment effects the terrestrial environment.  The food that we eat, our weather patterns and climate, even the very ground that we stand upon is influenced by the world’s oceans.  To not have at least a basic understanding of this leaves a person with an incomplete picture of God’s good design for Earth.”

No human being can live for long within the marine environment, but an understanding of a system so “other” compared to our own creates a perspective in biology, and in life, that changes how we look at things, and increases our capacity to see and understand “life” in biology very different than ourselves.