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New wave of marine scientists complete voyage

Travelling from Western Australia to Tasmania via the Great Australian Bight, the inaugural voyage in the program gave 20 postgraduate students two weeks of at-sea training on Board Australia’s advanced marine research vessel Investigator.

Research vessel Investigator in the Great Australian Bight during the CAPSTAN voyage.

CAPSTAN (Collaborative Australian Postgraduate Sea Training Alliance Network) is a national approach to developing the next generation of marine scientists and provides multidisciplinary at-sea training to meet the needs of industry and government.

The program makes use of Investigator’s wide research capability to deliver training that ranges from seafloor coring and marine life surveys to sea survival skills and ship navigation using charts.

Students even receive training in the traditional maritime skill of knot tying from the ship crew!

The diverse training on offer was matched by the range of students and trainers on board the ship for the first CAPSTAN voyage.

Twelve Australian universities were represented, along with staff from the Marine National Facility, reflecting the highly collaborative nature of the CAPSTAN program.

CAPSTAN Director, Dr April Abbott from Macquarie University, said the first voyage had exceeded all expectations and provided more than a few memorable experiences.

“The voyage has been amazing, and both students and trainers have described it as a once in a lifetime experience,” Dr Abbott said.

“Students received training in sampling seafloor geology and sediments, studied the chemistry of the ocean and got up close to marine life, including some large pods of whales – and that was just the first couple of days.

“So much has been learned about doing research at sea, and I’m sure everyone now has a greater appreciation of the impact that sea sickness can have on a research program.”

Chief Scientist on the CAPSTAN voyage, Associate Professor Jochen Kaempf from Flinders University, echoed the many benefits that the CAPSTAN voyage had delivered.

“CAPSTAN offers research-based training for students and this voyage has resulted in the collection of new scientific data that will help underpin our understanding of the marine environment,” Professor Kaempf said.

“Students have assisted in 3D mapping previously unmapped regions of seafloor, revealing features that may play a vital role in coastal nutrient cycling in the Great Australian Bight region. CAPSTAN training involves the collection of real data and students are contributing to real world research.

“For me, one of the highlights of the voyage was seeing a future generation of marine scientists plan and conduct a scientific program for a full day of the voyage. They all did an outstanding job.”

CAPSTAN students examine rock dredge sample.

Postgraduate student, Helen Hayes from University of Technology Sydney, said the voyage would be important for many students in helping shape future careers.

“To have had the opportunity to train on board this impressive research ship with all the amazing people that make the science happen has been a highlight of my career. You learn so many things that you can’t find in books or in the classroom,” Ms Hayes said.

“CAPSTAN provides at-sea training that is not available anywhere else in Australia and Ms Hayes said that the voyage had inspired many fellow students to continue following a career in the marine sciences.

“There are so many opportunities that this training opens up. I hope to be back as a scientist on future voyages to help contribute to developing greater understanding about the marine environment, and how we manage it from impacts such as climate change.

“It’s also really great to see such a strong representation of women in the program, both as trainers and students. The marine sciences are a great career path for women.”

CAPSTAN will continue on board Investigator in coming years with a further two training voyages scheduled in the initial three-year pilot program.

CAPSTAN is led by Macquarie University, supported by the Marine National Facility and governed by a network of leading industry and university partners. The program aims to provide a platform for institutional, industrial and generational knowledge transfer and collaboration to help support Australia’s growing blue economy, which is expected to contribute over $100billion a year to the Australian economy by 2025.