On 13 November 2016, the Two Oceans Aquarium will celebrate 21 years of operation. We have put together a series of blogs to look back on the remarkable journey.

Bianca Engel is the Two Oceans Aquarium Deputy Head of Education.

Sharing the amazing beauty of animals and plants off the South African coastline with schools and visitors has been one of our top priorities since the opening of the Two Oceans Aquarium in November 1995. 

“Initially, the Environmental Education Centre was a separate entity (Two Oceans Environmental Education Trust) to the Two Oceans Aquarium Trust, and led by Professor Mike Bruton; this later became a new department in the Two Oceans Aquarium. ”

The first school group visits to the Aquarium were made possible thanks to special discounted prices arranged with the Golden Arrow Bus Services (in a Two Oceans Aquarium branded bus), the Cape Argus (with a specific column in the Monday edition) and the Two Oceans Environmental Education Trust.

Back in the day!

Initially, short presentations were done on the difference between the two oceans, using overhead projectors, slide projectors or a white board … Yes, very old school! This took place in the Simba Classroom at the entrance of the Aquarium (now the Aquarium gift shop).

A presentation in the Simba Discovery Centre

Later on, my colleagues and I would carry a large bucket of sea water from the Touch Pool to the Simba Classroom in the morning, and then transport some of the Touch Pool animals for the students to interact with, prior to them entering the Aquarium. This was our first hands-on activity using live animals. It was, however, very labour-intensive.

Changes in classrooms

The Discovery Centres that are now the main venues of our Environmental Education Centre were officially opened on 18 March 1997 by the then-Minister of Water Affairs and Forestry Professor Kader Asmal.

Dissecting a sardine

These centres were initially designed to be a computer laboratory and a life science centre that would serve dual roles. They were to be classrooms, by day, to teach students about marine and freshwater life as well as broader environmental issues, and serve as a computer literacy centre for adults, in the afternoon.

The new wet labs

Our current Head of Education, Russell Stevens, took over from Dr Anne Drummond in 2000. Shortly afterwards, the classrooms were transformed into the wet laboratories we have today, with tanks either on the side or on tables. These Discovery Centres officially opened in 2002.

“There have been many staff members who have made a significant contribution to the Aquarium’s education effort over the past 20 years. We are extremely proud of every effort, no matter how small or large the contribution. Collectively, this work has contributed to the South African education landscape, to positively contributing to our nation to hundreds of thousands of students from early childhood development to university level. I currently work with the most dedicated and passionate team, who give of themselves tirelessly to make a positive contribution - one classroom at a time, one child at a time.” – Russell Stevens

1 million students in 2015

Since opening in 1995, we have welcomed an average of 47 000 school children a year to the Aquarium. The last financial year was our best yet, with 65 000 children visiting our Environmental Education Centre in the year. In 2015, we welcomed our 1 millionth student through the doors. 

Several of the schools and teachers have made a visit to the Aquarium an annual event on their outing calendar, testament to how much they value the educational experience.

Weston Barwise teaching the popular Underwater Wonders lesson

As technology improved, so did the classrooms. We went from overhead projectors, slide projectors and white boards to television sets, computers and video-linked microscopes, and the super-interactive smart white boards we use today.

None of the technological advances would mean anything, however, if it were not for our dedicated, qualified teaching staff, who put a lot of time and effort into constantly diversifying and improving lessons and teaching styles linked to the changing curriculum. As a team, we ensure that we reach each child visiting our centre in the most effective way.

Teaching teachers

Early in the Aquarium’s life, the Environmental Education Trust recognised the importance of training the teachers as well as students, and several teachers’ workshops were arranged with various partners including the Primary Science Programme (PSP), the Western Cape Education Department and the Save our Seas Foundation. The workshops dealt with topics on sea plants, rocky shore ecosystems, sharks, whales, practical ideas on how to teach the experiments in the Grade 12 Life Sciences curriculum, and many more.

An early Young Biologist course

Our education effort has not been limited to school going children and teachers. Over the years we have taught and interacted with a range of people through our programmes for adults:

  • Various restaurants about the importance of sustainably sourcing seafood (WWF SASSI workshops) – the first of these was in 2003
  • Fishermen and seafood traders' staff
  • SANParks marine compliance officers
  • Adult basic education in association with libraries
  • Blue Flag Beach staff and managers
  • University and technikon students studying Zoology, Marine Sciences, Aquaculture, Education or how to become a chef
  • Photography or visual arts students
  • SA Pensioners/retirees
  • Teachers and students from various neighbouring countries
  • Two Oceans Aquarium volunteers: we've trained more than 1 800 volunteers during 45 sessions
One of the first teacher workshops
Invertebrate teacher workshop in 2005
Cape Town Nature Conservation staff training 

Outreach

1998

The Aquarium’s initial effort to reach out to remote communities took on the form of a mobile teaching kit (equipped with a teacher’s guide and resources) sponsored by Murray & Roberts and compiled by Margot Branch. Schools throughout South Africa could book the mobile teaching kit for two weeks before returning it to the Aquarium.

An early outreach camp

The first outreach vehicle took on the form of a trailer equipped to teach about the importance of water in a very arid country. This was sponsored by the Strategic Fuel Fund in 1998.

The outreach trailer

This was then transformed into a display area with tanks, air supply and live animals which was taken to expos, camps and some coastal schools. In this format it required sea water to be stored in 10-litre containers in a fridge to keep the temperature low, and then carrying these containers down to the vehicle in the morning.

Once opened and set up, only about 10 children could gather around the trailer, and there was not much hands-on interaction with the animals.

“In the first three years (2002 to 2004) more than 18 000 children benefited from this outreach effort.”

2006

After a very unfortunate accident damaged the trailer, we received a donation from Grand West Corporate Social Investment to purchase a brand new Toyota Quantum, which we equipped with a full life-support system to transport marine animals to schools in order to conduct lessons. This is our current Oceans in Motions vehicle.

2010

Russell was keen for the Oceans in Motion project to embark on some week-long programmes further afield in order for us to reach rural community schools, most of which could not afford to visit the Aquarium. A special trip was organised to go to the Southern Overberg and it proved to be so successful that we were approached by Cape Nature and the Department of Environmental Affairs and Development Planning to continue the initiative. With their kind sponsorship, we have done up to four rural outreach road trips per year since 2010.

Oceans in Motion has visited different communities in Cape Town, the broader Western Cape, Northern Cape and Eastern Cape, taking the marine experience to thousands of children and teachers in very rural areas for teachers workshops and hands-on lessons.

To date, the Oceans in Motion program has visited 908 schools and reached 127 405 learners.

One of our most recent outreach efforts was a special Oceans in Motions holiday course to students of Kuyasa Primary.

2015

Driven by a proposal and sponsorship from the City of Cape Town a new vehicle was equipped and the Smart Living outreach programme was set up. Up until September 2016, this programme has visited 182 schools and taught 19 694 learners.

Holiday enrichment courses

Our Enviromental Education Centre has offered several fun holiday enrichment courses to interested children over the years, with topics including arts and crafts, a day in the life of an aquarist (collecting white mussels), building your own aquarium, and many more.

How to build a home aquarium - holiday programme

The most famous of these was the first Young Biologist course which was sponsored by the Abe Bailey Trust in 2001 and presented by Dr Nathalie Viljoen (now our Visitor Services Manager).

Later the sponsorship of this course was taken over by De Beers Marine and it has transformed into the very popular Young Biologist course we know today, with applications to attend the course coming from as far afield as Gauteng. Successful participants now qualify to become volunteers at the Aquarium and provide much needed support over the July and December school holidays.

Other enrichment courses for specific grades were added over the years – first the Junior Biologist Course for grade 6s, followed by Matric Life Sciences Revision Course, Sustainable Living Course for grade 7s, Sea Fans course for grade 9s and lastly, the two grade 11 courses, dealing with oceanography and zoology. Most of these courses are presented twice a year because of the increased interest from students to participate.

A 2005 Young Biologist course

These are now known as our Marine Science Academy suite. Involvement in the last two courses – oceanography and zoology and interaction with the curriculum advisors in the Overberg area – inspired Russell to propose the dream of having this content taught at schools as a new matric subject, and he is currently going through the process of writing this curriculum in consultation with lecturers at universities and various provincial and national Education Department officials.

In our own words

Carrin Blake

Most teachers will be familiar with the voice of Carrin Blake, who calmly takes you through the process of booking a school visit to the Two Oceans Aquarium. She joined our Education Centre staff in March 2008. Carrin’s favourite quote is “Education is the most powerful weapon which can change the world” by Nelson Mandela. “And I’m glad I am helping achieve just that!” she says.

Chanelle Naidoo

Chanelle Naidoo, a teacher in the Upper Discovery Centre, joined our teaching staff in 2014. She says: “I am proud of our work and what we offer to the public as we get the opportunity to share the mystery, the beauty, and the amazing healing power of our oceans and the life beneath its waves."

Xaviery Zylstra

Senior Teacher Xavier Zylstra joined our Education Centre staff in 2009. “Moving from a formal school classroom to the Aquarium Discovery Centres was an absolute revelation. This is where I feel my teaching has been the most fulfilling and true to my calling, enabling me to spread a real conservation message and to change the perspectives and attitudes of so many young people, for the better. I love this place!”

Kirshia Govender

Kirshia Govender, a teacher in the Lower Discovery Centre, first discovered the Education Centre in 2008 when she completed the volunteer course while still a student. “The Aquarium is the perfect learning environment, with loads of hands-on experiential learning. I furthered my field of study in Science Education with high school learners, and questioned where the ideal teaching position relating to my background in marine biology would be. I was so fortunate to be offered a teaching position as an Aquarium teacher! I was over the moon to take up this amazing position. I now have my own classroom with super-cool desk aquaria for the students. Being a teacher, teaching a variety of students, teaching about marine life and to actually have the animals on the table for the students to engage with and learn with on a whole new level is fantastic!”

Thabo Sabeko

Thabo Sabeko, our Oceans in Motions outreach teacher, says he enjoys “being out of the office and knowing I will be meeting cute tiny faces and sharing the information with them. I also enjoy when they are sharing their ‘crazy’ stories. That makes my job most enjoyable.”

Katja Rockstroh

Katja Rockstroh, our Education Operations Manager, started working at the Aquarium as a casual staff member in December 2007. By May 2009 she was offered a permanent position, and has become the oil that lubricates the cogs of our education machine. "My job is quite multi-faceted and I love all parts of it. What I love the most, though, is to make a difference by getting through to even just one person. That one person usually creates a ripple effect, spreading the word and creating more ocean activists. Our Young Biologist course is a great example of this. We can all make a difference, no matter how small." 

In our 21 years we have made a significant contribution to education and specifically marine education in South Africa and we look forward to continuing this work.

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