Learning how to dive and observe life underwater is a key part of the marine courses offered at Toi Ohomai Institute of Technology.
Despite an eight week pause on recreational activity from March to May and the country’s second hit of Alert Level 2 from August to September, the students are still on track to complete their practical requirements for the year.
The requirements vary for different courses, but include target diving hours and class boating trips.
“We’ve had to catch up on some of the dive training that we couldn’t do during lockdown, but fortunately we managed to do this prior to the new Alert Level 2,” says Toi Ohomai academic leader in animal care, marine and environmental management, Dean Tully.
“Fortunately, the latest move to Level 2 came at a time when our students are naturally in smaller groups, so we’ve been able to carefully manage them.”
The Marine courses have still required a bit of reshuffling, though. For the first year students’ surveying trip around Mercury Island this September, they had to take more trips in smaller numbers in order to safely accommodate students.
“We had to significantly reduce the number of students that would usually go on the trip, so social distancing could be maintained on the boat – especially regarding the sleeping arrangements.
“Students remained in a small bubble for the duration of the trips. Luckily the boat is large, and obviously once under the water with masks and snorkels on, social distancing is not an issue.
“We also follow Ministry of Health guidelines, so students are not allowed to attend trips if they are unwell or showing any signs of sickness.”
Students apprehensively waited to see whether their trips would get the green light, as they received continual email updates from the Tech in the lead up to their planned voyages.
First year student Fraser Mathis says he was stoked with the outcome.
“Our class looked forward to the trip all year, so we were grateful that our lecturers managed to make it work.
“Because the trip was shortened by a few days and we still had to do 13 dives, I was kind of worried about the workload going into it, but it was heaps of fun.”
The trip trains students in subtidal monitoring, which includes underwater visual fish counts, bottom profiling and crayfish, paua, scallop and kina distribution and abundance surveys.
“Getting to do surveying work that contributes to helping the ocean was really rewarding.”
The time away from the physical classroom due to COVID hasn’t stopped marine students from completing their theory work, either.
“We had to teach theory lessons via Screencastify video and Zoom during the first lockdown,” says Dean.
“Despite that, the students have performed very well academically.”