The first Two Oceans Aquarium volunteer course of the year has just been completed. Here, four newly trained volunteers share their experiences of the course with us. 

By Kris Ingreso

Every Monday for the past six weeks, a group of enthusiastic, energetic, determined people gathered together to learn more about the vast ocean, what it has to offer and, of course, how to conserve it and raise awareness for it.

Volunteers in the Discovery Centre

My experience during this period was unquestionably enriching. There was an equal amount of practical and theoretical training involved. The theory part of the training course allowed us to learn about different sea plants, jellies, sea stars, arthropods (like crabs etc.) and many more ocean fauna and flora. Every week we were assessed on the previous week’s work to see if we were actually listening in class, and that we were not just there for coffee and biscuits, which we did munch on during our lessons.

A tank in the Discovery Centre filled with sea stars and urchins

The practical lessons were excellent for applying the knowledge that we gained from the theory lessons, and it gave us a chance to see the live organisms and helped us understand them much better. One of my favourite practical sessions was the kelp holdfast investigation, where we could see the little organisms that have made the holdfast their own cosy home. Feather stars, worms, sea spiders and sponges are a few examples of what we found living in the intricate holdfast.

The holdfast of sea bamboo 

We were also trained on how to use the Microscope (most of us needed a few tries before we could get the hang of it) and how to handle the animals with care in the Touch Pool. 

“One of my favourite practical sessions was the kelp holdfast investigation, where we could see the little organisms that have made the holdfast their own cosy home.”

There was also a rocky shore outing to Mouille Point where all the sea lovers headed off to see the animals and plants in their natural habitat. This was definitely a great way to end the six-week volunteer training programme as it allowed us to work together as a team to identify the organisms that we learnt about in class.

The microscope

From theory lessons to microscope training to the nerve-racking assessments, I feel that everyone in the volunteer training programme (including myself), has enhanced their knowledge about the ocean. It was an amazing experience to learn more about the sea from such passionate people and I would like to thank the Two Oceans Aquarium for giving me the opportunity to learn about the ever-so-fascinating ocean. 

By Lalli Coulbanis

Our oceans are big. They make waves and provide fish. They contain wonders and mysteries. And we take them for granted. That is, until the Two Oceans Aquarium volunteer course changes everything you thought you knew about the big blue.

Kelp is no longer “litter” on our beautiful beaches, but estates. Specialised housing complexes with communities of diverse creatures. All living side by side, and sometimes on each other. There's so much more to our sea than meets the eye and I feel privileged to have been given the opportunity to get to know it better.

Getting dirty in the rock pools

These past weeks Two Oceans Aquarium Deputy Head of Education Bianca Engel and Senior Teacher Xavier Zylstra taught us to appreciate all living things found in and around our coasts. We discovered the world of our rocky shores first-hand, learning about everything from classifications and adaptations, to biodiversity and what that means to us. The Environmental Education Centre’s Discovery Centre is well equipped to make the teaching tangible, bringing the rocky shore to us and allowing us to experience this strange new world for ourselves.

“The Two Oceans Aquarium volunteer course changes everything you thought you knew about the big blue.”

We now understand how everything in the ocean works together and why it is so important to preserve not only the larger, better-known species, but also the smaller, often-overlooked ones. The ocean is the biggest source of life on earth and we need to appreciate the importance of protecting our marine habitats for the creatures that depend on them. Because, in the end, we depend on them too.

Visiting the Aquarium allows you to get up close and personal with some amazing animals, but volunteering gives insight and new meaning to each display. It has ignited a new enthusiasm in me: to share what I have learned and to get others excited about keeping our oceans alive.

By Chloe Obermeyer 

So, I found myself sitting amongst a large group of people – different ages, different backgrounds – in a classroom with a ceiling covered in an assortment of marine-themed decorations: a hanging puffer fish, a preserved albatross, even a dangling surfboard complete with a shark bite. The ever-catchy SpongeBob SquarePants theme song was playing over the classroom projector as qualified Aquarium volunteers handed out bits of marine sponge (or “porifera”, as we would later learn to call it). 

A surfboard complete with shark bite

This is the kind of thing that you can expect when signing up for the volunteer training programme at the Two Oceans Aquarium. There are small tanks filled with sea stars (not starfish, as they are not fish), shelves with crustacean shells and double-headed shark embryos and, if you're lucky, you may spot a row of penguins following a volunteer down the stairs after their swim.

But aside from all the marine treasures and trinkets, it is the educational environment that is the crux of the training programme. It is apparent from day one that the focus of the volunteer course is on educating us so that we may educate others. This does come with an amount of basic theory and a few small tests. One suddenly finds oneself able to identify many of the once-unidentifiable sea plants (not “sea weeds”, as they are not weeds or pests) that wash ashore. One comes to a better overall understanding of the stunning coastlines of Southern Africa and how everything from the smallest limpet to highest high tide are all brilliantly interconnected. 

Shelves with crustacean shells 

Upon learning how to interact with the various sea plants and animals at the Touch Pool and Microscope Exhibit, one suddenly becomes very grateful for all the preceding theory and tests. What seems like a small glass bowl with a few animals in it is actually a plethora of activity with so much that can be discussed. Of course, the relevant facts and information are so interesting and at times unexpected that talking about it becomes, well, great fun! And really, I doubt that I will ever tire of stroking the surprisingly rough skin of a sea star or using the microscope to explore the unthinkably small eggs of brine shrimp.

“If you're lucky, you may spot a row of penguins following a volunteer down the stairs after their swim.”

Now that all the tests have been written, the knowledge attained, the practicals passed and my roommate's intrigue-verging-on-phobia of brittle sea stars confirmed, I look forward to doing what I can to aid the ultimate goal: the passing on of knowledge. I knew going in that I was fascinated by our oceans. Add a group of eclectic and enthusiastic fellow trainees, some extremely welcoming and passionate mentors and the inspiring environment that is the Two Oceans Aquarium, and one's fascination with our oceans quickly turns into a motivated drive to aid them. 

At the Touch Pool

By Tara Franken

This experience has been such an eye opener and I have learnt so much about the smallest animals – animals I didn’t even know were there – and what a huge impact they have.

The teachers at the Two Oceans Aquarium have so much knowledge and are so enthusiastic about their work and these animals, so it is very difficult not to feel the same and to not be swept up by their excitement.

“I can’t wait to start volunteering! See you guys there.”

Even though I work nine to five, Monday to Friday, I couldn’t be more excited to wake up on a Saturday and go to the Aquarium to learn! My full-time job has nothing to do with the ocean, by the way, so my knowledge before volunteer training was slim to none. But that didn’t make any difference … Anyone can learn!

Take a look at this... Just some sea plants.? No, really not! Can you believe that chemicals are extracted from these plants that are used in food and drinks, like ice cream and beer, that people consume on a daily basis? Yip, I was also amazed.

More than just plants

We rely so much on the ocean and the majority of us don’t even know it, so that is why for the volunteer programme at the Aquarium has made me respect the ocean a whole lot more.

Can you even begin to guess how many animals inhabit this kelp holdfast? Loads. Sea anemones, feather stars, sea spiders, spiral worms, soft coral… Just to name a few!

Kelp holdfasts - holders of diversity

The Aquarium has also banned the plastic bag from its premises (as it has such a bad impact on the ocean once it lands there – read about Bobs the turtle's story by clicking here) so staff are asked to please not bring plastic bags to work.

The Aquarium has also done so much to reduce their carbon footprint! Hats off to them, as not many companies can say that they have made even half of the changes the Aquarium has.

So, now all that I can say is…. I can’t wait to start volunteering! See you guys there. 

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