Saturday, 13 December 2014

Marine biology / phycology field course at the University of the Aegean (Mytilini, Lesvos, Greece), Sept. 22-Oct.2, 2014 Frithjof Kuepper

This year saw the 2nd edition of our international field course, which we had launched last year ( Energized by the success of the first one, we managed to run it over 10 days (with a relaxing weekend for explorations of the island in between), for undergraduate and graduate students from both Aberdeen (6) and Mytilini (16). Lecture subjects were an Introduction to Phycology, Molecular Biology and Bioinformatics for Algal Research, Algal Ecology, Algal Pathogens, Seaweeds of Polar Regions, Invasive Seaweeds, Sea Grasses, Algal Culturing (and the Germling Emergence Method) as well as Seaweed Mariculture. Frithjof Kuepper, Alexandra Mystikou & Kyle Fletcher from the Algae Group gave lectures together with Akira Peters and Kostas Tsiamis.

During the first week of the course, we visited 3 field sites for surveys and collections from the shore or by snorkelling, which also provided a large range of materials for subsequent practicals in the well-equipped lab of the Marine Science Department at the University of the Aegean.

During the second week, we conducted two day-long field trips including very attractive scuba dives, exploring unspoilt seagrass meadows (a prime example for blue carbon sequestration!), Cystoseira forests, sea urchin barrens, a small sea cave and a site dominated by alien / invasive seaweeds (due to insurance reasons, this can at present only be offered to Greek students – the local Marine Science Department has a very active students’ dive unit) – one by boat from Plomari along the scenic south coast towards Panagia Kryfti and Cape Agios Fokas, and another one by car to the beautiful bay of Agios Ermogenis.

Student responses (we conducted a survey at the end of the last lecturing day) were enthusiastic, even though some of the feedback forms received suggested offering fewer lectures and more field work (which will be taken on board if there is a future edition of the course). Mytilini has a very attractive cultural and night life for students (while being very affordable by any standards), and it seems that strong bonds have formed among several of the course participants and faculty.
Lesvos with its capital of Mytilini is a very beautiful, largely unspoilt island, with an interesting diversity of coastal marine habitats within easy reach including sandy and pebble beaches, extensive seagrass meadows, sandy and rocky bottom, pristine / climax Cystoseira forests, sea urchin barrens, other sites dominated by invasive seaweeds (Caulerpa racemosa and Stypopodium schimperi) as well as 2 large inlets, the Gulfs of Geras and Kalloni, both with extensive salt marshes and a number of mariculture facilities. Besides an active marine science department at the host institution, the University of the Aegean, Lesvos has also been repeatedly visited for seaweed-related research by two of the course faculty (FCK and Kostas Tsiamis) in recent years.

Also on land, the island of Lesvos is an interesting and attractive place. With historic sites from the Ancient Greeks and Romans to the Byzantines and Ottomans, mountain villages conserving their traditional culture, vast olive groves (most of which operating with organic farming methods), internationally significant bird breeding and overwintering sites, large forests, a petrified forest (unique in Europe), Lesvos has a lot more to offer than an exciting marine environment. Turkey / Asia Minor is within sight and easy reach for a day trip.

Our thanks go to our host, Dr. Maria Karadanelli-Kostopoulou, who organized much of local access to facilities at the University of the Aegean, accommodation and local student enrolment, and who extended her hospitality to 2 of the faculty in her home despite a very heavy workload on other fronts.

We are very grateful to the EU ERASMUS program (managed by the British Council) for funding the travel expenses of 3 teaching staff from Aberdeen (FCK, AM and KF), without which this endeavour would not have been possible either. This helped to keep the cost to participating students within very tolerable limits - we did not need to charge a participation fee, since there was no requirement to support travel of faculty and no charge by our Greek hosts at the University of the Aegean for use of facilities (which is even more admirable considering the dire funding situation for higher education in Greece). Also, compared to other field courses on offer at the University of Aberdeen  (especially for study areas in the UK or USA), travel to Mytilini and almost every other aspect of the course are very inexpensive for students and faculty alike due to the availability of direct charter flights and the generally low cost of accommodation, food and local transportation on Lesvos Island. The international study environment (with faculty from the UK, Greece, Germany and France and students from the UK, Greece and Chile) was an added plus.

We are also grateful to the Hellenic Phycological Society (ΕΛΦΕ) and the Hellenic Centre for Marine Research (HCMR / EΛΚΕΘΕ) for their support.

Finally, we would like to express our gratitude to the students of this course, without whose enthusiasm this endeavor would be much less rewarding or even pointless.

We very much hope that we will be able to repeat this course and that it can ideally become a regular, annual or biannual constituent of the curricula at Aberdeen and Mytilini. Indeed, we have received a strong expression of interest from the University of Konstanz (Germany) to participate in future sequels of the course, which would make it a trinational event.

 from the left Vivian Louizidou, Kostas Tsiamis and Alexandra Mystikou

Akira Peters in a class at the University of the Aegean

 Alexandra teaching bioinformatics

 Amerssa and Vivian learning how to assemble and align sequences

Poly Eleni Maria and Vivian in seaweed ID lab practical

evening in Mytilini

getting exhaust pipe fixed during field excursion

boat excursion to Panagia Kryfti on S coast of Lesvos

excursion boat off S Lesvos



 Dive excursion exploring seagrass meadow ecosystem w students of the Univ of the Aegean

 diving and snorkeling excursion to seagrass meadow

 Elina and Ioanna exploring seagrass meadow

 Intact seagrass meadow ecosystem at Agios Ermogenis southern Lesvos

 invasive brown alga Stypopodium schimperi

 Ioanna pointing out a fireworm

look into a sea cave


 Sunset in Plomari

the scenic S coast of Lesvos

the scenic S coast of Lesvos

 with participants of the field course during boat excursion

the course participants at one of the field trips