Master of Science (Research) student
Bachelor of Science in Applied Ecology and Marine Biology
Marine life has always fascinated her, says Elianna Zoura who came to AUT as an international student from Greece to study marine science.
“As a child growing up, I was always fascinated by the ocean and the amazing life within it. My fascination only grew stronger by watching marine documentaries as a teen. Those documentaries and watching marine biologists in action inspired me to become a scientist myself.
“I was attracted to the Bachelor of Science at AUT because this university is well-known for its strong marine biology programme, with a very interactive curriculum that focuses on hands-on experiences.”
While she had always known that she wanted to work with ocean life, Elianna says her studies helped her refine how she sees her future career.
“My lightbulb moment was during the marine ecology course in my Bachelor of Science, which was taught by Dr Kay Vopel. During my high school years, I always thought my career would be focused on the biology of marine mammals like dolphins and whales. However, Dr Kay Vopel’s teaching of microbial communities and marine ecosystem processes sparked a new passion in me for these complex systems, and inspired me to change my original path and focus on marine ecology.”
A closer look at coastal ecosystems
Now enrolled in a Master of Science (Research) in Marine Science, Elianna is pursuing her newfound passion for marine ecology and is exploring how benthic microalgae, called diatoms, respond to sediment deoxygenation of coastal ecosystems.
“Diatoms are ‘ecosystem engineers’. They’re among the most ecologically important organisms due to being responsible for 40-45% of the marine primary production, which makes up 20% of the global photosynthesis, in addition to contributing 20% of global carbon fixation. In coastal ecosystems diatoms are considered to be the dominant representative phytoplankton group, as they produce 70% of the total coastal primary production.
“Coastal ecosystems have been the subject of major environmental impacts caused by the anthropogenic disturbances and climate change. One of the biggest threats coastal ecosystems experience is the increase in nutrient loading due to agriculture run-off. Therefore, it’s important to investigate how this ecosystem engineer will respond to this stressor, with the goal of investigating the fate of the coastal ecosystems and the environmental impacts of climate change.”
Elianna’s master’s degree research is being supervised by Dr Kay Vopel from AUT’s School of Science.
Opportunities to thrive
She would highly recommend AUT’s marine science programmes, says Elianna who expects to complete her Master of Science (Research) in 2022 and is planning to enrol in a PhD next.
“I like that the science courses at AUT involve laboratory work and field trips. This enhances your learning and gives you the chance to experience the marine ecosystems first-hand instead of just in textbooks. However, the main selling point for me is the community at AUT. The academic staff are approachable and take an interest in students’ learning and progress.
“For me, what I’ve enjoyed most about my studies has been the research project during my undergraduate studies. Conducting my own research for the first time was among the most exciting and cherished experiences I’ve had so far during my studies. Parts of my research project involved going out in the field to collect microalgae and marine invertebrates, and doing my own laboratory work which provided me with pivotal learning experiences and skills for my future career.”
Elianna is proud of how far she has come since her early days at AUT.
“As an international student moving to the other side of the world, my first few weeks at AUT were scary. However, the ample and invaluable help I received from my professors and academic staff made my adjustment easy. Two years later, in the last year of my Bachelor of Science, I received the School of Science award for the most outstanding graduate in applied ecology; an achievement I’m particularly proud of. 2020 was the most challenging year due to COVID-19 so this accomplishment made this whole awful year worth it.”