Dissertation projects 2013-14: James Cox in the Arabian Gulf

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Last summer (June – August) I had the opportunity to intern at a watersport centre on the island of Sir Bani Yas, 200km west of Abu Dhabi, U.A.E. Besides assisting in the day-to-day activities, such as diving, snorkelling, fishing, kayaking, I was also allowed to undertake data collection for my dissertation project. The Arabian Gulf is home to some of the warmest sea temperatures in the world and therefore made a suitable environment for studying the effects of ocean warming on different coral genera. For this I used the reefs around the island. The methodology I used was taking 60cm x 41cm (0.25m²) photoquadrats of the reefs every 2m along a 10m transect. This would allow me to calculate the patchiness in the coral when processed by the applicable software later. For assessing the dominance I counted the numbers of each different coral genera within a 3m x 3m quadrat. The number of bleached corals, due to excess temperatures, was also noted to analyse the thermal tolerance of each genus.

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The experience of creating the methodology (with the help of my dissertation tutor) and then putting it in to action has been a satisfying process and one that will stand me in good stead for future career studies. It not only taught me the importance of a consistent and realistic study method, but also the need to be flexible and inventive when faced with obstacles that could not be accounted for. Like many studies that are at the mercy of the elements I encountered problems. High winds hampered us getting the boats to the reef and a unseasonable high amount of jellyfish (half of which seemed to be aimed at my face!) decided to also join us. This, combined with camera problems, delayed the project. These were all issues that were overcome and although frustrating at the time were, in hindsight, an excellent learning curve. Two of the guys employed by the centre were assisting me and have offered to continue the data collection as more areas of reef are found.

Many great opportunities for dissertation projects were offered through the university and conservation organisations. A lot of these suit many student’s interests excellently, but if there is a specific project that you want to research, then go for it. With a bit of persistence and determination there are always chances out there to mould a dissertation into an idea that suits you.

James Cox (Final year, B.Sc. Animal Biology)

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