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An interview with Thomas Burel!

To make you want to join us and discover the marine world, we interviewed Thomas Burel, our expert in coastal ecology and supervisor of the trip. Here is his feedback as a supervisor of the field trip.

Hello Thomas, can you introduce yourself?

Hello, my name is Thomas Burel, I am an associate professor at UBO (Université de Bretagne Occidentale) and a marine biologist specialized in coastal ecology and macroalgae.

Why did you want to specialise in macroalgae?

Very good question! They are organisms which are particularly aesthetic and beautiful to look at, they are very elegant. This is why I was attracted to seaweed and I continued because I think it is a promising sector.

Where did this passion come from?

It came from Erwan Ar Gall, when I took his L2 lesson (at the UBO in the BOPE course today) I found it amazing, it’s the first lesson of the degree that I devoured from beginning to end and I found it really interesting. I wanted to know more and more, I dived into books about the shore and I haven’t stopped since. 

It is Erwan’s passion and talents as a speaker that caught my attention, even though I did not know this field at all, as I had previously focused on terrestrial organisms.  I used to think of macroalgae as organisms that stink on the sand. It’s also during the algology lesson that I could see how diverse these organisms are ( colors, shapes…) and that’s when I found them very aesthetic.

 Is it difficult to supervise an outing?

The tide! Watch out, it’s easy to forget!

One thing that can sometimes be difficult is to keep the students’ attention when the weather is bad. Luckily the weather is always nice in Brittany!

Sometimes, dealing with hunger and cold can be tricky in the middle of winter.

What is your favourite thing about going out with students? 

What I like most is sharing! At university, we are always in a speaker’s posture and students are spectators, which is sometimes frustrating because there is not much discussion. With small groups on the field, you can really share fun facts and that’s exactly how students will remember things.  For example, we can say « oh this seaweed here is the sea pepper Osmundea pinnatifida, it contains bromophenols which are repellents against grazers ». It is much easier to remember the casual than the formal. Through this discussion on the field, you realize that teachers are accessible and this allows you to have more personal and personalized discussions, you can adapt your speech. 

And then of course: the fresh air!

Why is it interesting for students to go out?

Field trips are fun for the students because it gives them a chance to experience the reality of the field. It is the moment of truth for them to find out if they like the field or not. Many students remember their first field trip because it is a memorable experience and it is important that we take the time to show how ecosystems are organized.

Can you tell us a foreshore story?

When I did the algae herbarium during my L3 in Brest in the algology speciality (April 2014), we were looking for algae in Trez Hir (Breton foreshore …) and we were caught by the tide. It is a shore with many channels, we settled with 2-3 friends on the rocks after collecting seaweed and we ended up in underwear to get back to the car. And as if by chance while going back up in underwear we passed by our professor of algology Eric Deslandes.