Marine biologist works with primary school to teach children about life under the waves

A local primary school has joined forces with a Plymouth University academic on a year-long project to teach children and their families all about plankton.

‘Plankton Year’ aims to take school children on a journey of discovery into the microscopic world of plankton and show them the remarkable world of life at the bottom of the marine food chain.

It is being run by Justine Dixon, Head of Science at Newton Ferrers Church of England Primary School, with marine biologist Richard Kirby, Research Fellow of Plymouth University’s Marine Institute.

Richard Kirby said: “The aim of the project is to show the children the secret world of life that lives just beneath the waves. Many of the creatures that the children will see are no bigger than a pinhead, yet they are incredibly beautiful.

“Did you realise that there would be no fish in the sea without the plankton, which means no fish and chips for supper? There would also be no crabs, shrimps, prawns, cockles or mussels as the young of these animals all start their life drifting in the plankton. The plankton also created our oil and gas, and they produce 50% of the oxygen in the air we breathe. They also create the familiar smell of the seaside that we know as the sea air.”

The project has been made possible after the primary school was awarded a Royal Society Partnership grant.

Justine Dixon said: “The partnership grant has enabled us to buy some plankton nets, an excellent microscope, and camera, together with some other equipment that will help us study the plankton in the water in our estuary and off our coast.

“The plankton year will allow us to teach so many different things, from the food chain and why certain events happen at certain times of year, to life cycles and how creatures are adapted to their environment.”

The project will start on Tuesday 12th June with ‘an evening of plankton’ for children, parents, and anyone in the community interested in learning more.

Kirby adds: “We hope to involve the whole community in the project. There are lots of boats in Newton Ferrers and we hope that parents of the children will take the nets with them when they go sailing and collect plankton samples for us. The children will also use the nets to collect plankton for themselves from the local quay.”


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