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Taking a walk on the marine side

Lana Young alongside the R V Tangaroa at port in Wellington. Photo: Siobhan O'Connor.
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It’s important for young people to ask questions and be curious about what they see around them, a talented young New Zealand scientist and film-maker says.

“Get involved. Go to the beach, stick your hand in a rock pool,” Lana Young (23) says.

Go outside and be curious. Scientists don’t have to be inside in a lab coat.”

She encourages young people to be “asking questions and being curious about what you see”.

While Lana focused more on creative subjects at school, a trip on the Spirit of Adventure sailing ship as a teenager piqued her curiosity about the ocean.

“It had a massive impact.”

She decided to study science at university and now combines creativity with a love of marine life and science. She has already gained a BSc in Zoology and Postgraduate Diploma in Marine Science at the University of Otago.

Lana’s now completing a 25-minute visual documentary about Southern Ocean seabirds for her Masters in Science Communication Documentary Film-making at the university.

Her podcast, or digital audio item, about seals and sea lions was broadcast on Radio New Zealand’s Our Changing World this year.

Amid studying and film-making, she also works part-time helping educate schoolchildren about sea animals at the New Zealand Marine Studies Centre on the Otago Peninsula.

Sir Peter Blake Ambassadorship

Lana and a Victoria University student, Siobhan O’Connor (21) were recently selected from more than 100 applicants to win a Sir Peter Blake NIWA Ambassadorship. NIWA is the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research.

From October 23 to November 23, the pair joined marine experts and crew on board NIWA’s Research Vessel, Tangaroa, for a science expedition to the Chatham Rise, east of Canterbury.

“You realise that you’re tiny and the ocean is huge. You’re just like a little boat in the ocean, bobbing along,” Lana says.

The ocean is such an amazing, varied and dynamic place, so much more than just a big blue pond of water that it may seem like.”

She and Siobhan shared a cabin and worked opposite 12-hours shifts every day. At midday, Lana would eat the first meal of her day: a massive lunch, including dessert, because this was everyone’s common meal.

The vessel has sophisticated technical equipment and a laboratory. Four other scientists and three crew members were in her team’s shift, although there were 18 other scientists working in other teams around the clock.

She worked with zoo plankton – “that just means animals that drift in the ocean”.

Team members would deploy nets, pushing them off the side of the boat to depths up to 1800 m. Some nets would stay down there for as long as eight hours.

Lana Young (right) and crew deploy a krill net overboard during the R V Tangaroa’s NIWA science expedition to Chatham Rise. Photo: Sadie Mills.

Sea animals collected in a pot at the bottom of the net and once the nets were hauled up, Lana would sort and measure salp.

Salp are planktonic marine invertebrates that are thought to have a big influence on the marine ecosystem. People might recognise them as the gelatinous creatures which wash up on beaches during summer, often mistaken for jellyfish or fish eggs.

Lana says most of the salp collected was preserved for NIWA’s analysis once the vessel returned to shore. The team dissected some on board to analyse how much the salp had eaten.

Salp feed on phytoplankton, which absorb carbon dioxide and produce oxygen in the exact same way that land-plants do. Lana explains that scientists want to discover more about salp’s role in transferring significant amounts of carbon from the ocean’s surface to deep water. This means looking at their “poop”!

One of the expedition’s purposes was to investigate salp’s carbon impact. When conditions are right, the creatures can be found in their thousands. “If they’re all pooping and all eating, surely they must have some impact…on the carbon budget.”

Film documentary

The enthusiastic student did find time during these 12-hour shifts to go out on deck with her camera and film birds for her documentary about Southern Ocean seabirds and the threats they face.

Lana Young with her tripod after interviewing scientists on the bow of the R V Tangaroa. Photo: Siobhan O’Connor.

While she’s filmed part of this documentary on land, it has been difficult to film the seabirds when land-based or to find free, quality footage.

“This trip was really perfectly timed,” she says.

“Being able to film them and get my own footage…I guess it was a bit of a game changer for my documentary.”

Lana aims to finish the film and her Masters degree by the end of February. The documentary will likely be screened early next year and she’d love to enter it in festivals.

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For further information:

Two of the vlogs Lana made on board the Tangaroa:

https://www.niwa.co.nz/videos/niwa-blake-ambassadors-vlog-1-sampling-salps-247

https://www.niwa.co.nz/videos/niwa-blake-ambassadors-vlog-3-its-bongo-time

Listen to Lana’s Radio New Zealand podcast here.

Read about the Sir Peter Blake Trust here.

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