From 25 to 29 June 2018, a class of 51 grade 9 learners selected from across the Western Cape gave up a week of their school holidays to take part in the Marine Science Explorer course. Thanks to generous sponsorship from Averda, we were once again able to offer this opportunity to children from all walks of life for free, laying the foundation for a future career in ocean sciences. From biomimicry to climatology, let's take a look at all things ocean that this year's class got up to.

The first step of any Two Oceans Aquarium lesson - putting children directly in touch with the life they will be investigating (A.K.A. "turning anemones into friends").

The course begins with some introductory classwork, introducing the key concepts of marine science and how the different schools of thought apply to the South African coastline. This foundational knowledge included lessons in the role organisms play in a balanced ecosystem and the types of body plans employed by animals - e.g. humans have bilateral symmetry (we are mirror images), but animals like sea stars often have pentameric (five-fold) radial bodies.

This variegated leaf has a cool lesson - the greener parts are richer in chlorophyll, the chemical plants use to turn sunlight into energy.

It was then time for some biochemistry! Looking at the chemical basis for most of the energy used by all life on earth - the sugars produced by photosynthesis in plants.

Teacher Anzio Abels adds small amounts of ethanol to each test tube - this will free the chemicals in the leaf samples and allow the learners to experiment further.

Allowing children to do their own experiments and draw their own conclusions is a big part of what we do - it is far easier to understand a concept if you've had the opportunity to figure out the "whys" yourself.

Cooking the leaves softens them, which will allow the learners to test for the presence of starch, and thus photosynthesis, in a later part of the experiment.

As the course progressed during the week, lessons became more complex, exploring lessons in the geological and evolutionary systems that have shaped the world we experience today.

Back in class - and full of enthusiastic questions!

Using the Aquarium's animals as examples, lessons in evolution were demonstrated by comparing vertebrates (animals with spines). Learners looked at modern bony fishes with fully developed skeletons in comparison to cartilaginous fishes (sharks, rays and skates) who have no solid skeleton except their jawbones. These were both compared to hagfish - a "primitive" animal that has a spinal chord, but no jaw.

Each learner was given a coursework book, developed by the Two Oceans Aquarium and sponsored by Averda. This included all the coursework they would be covering during the week, as well as worksheets for the practical assignments.

Later in the week, the Marine Science Explorers headed out to Milnerton Beach - time to investigate the physical changes that take place in coastal waters and sediments.

Nothing like a cold Diep River crossing to get the blood flowing! This river mouth at Lagoon Beach was the starting point for the day's coastal investigation.

The learners followed the coast from the lagoon mouth at Lagoon Beach to the Milnerton Lighthouse. Along the way, they were instructed to collect water and sediment samples - which they would analyse back at the Aquarium.

Although collecting water samples was the day's main goal, these kids wouldn't be future marine scientists if they didn't also feel the need to collect the plastic pollution they encountered.

Along the way, curious students asked many questions and teachers Anzio Abels and Chanelle Naidoo, as well as Deputy Head of Education Bianca Engel, were more than happy to encourage discussion and investigation of any odd beach debris found.

Who says collecting chemistry samples isn't for the brave?

A beach walk is a really fun way to spend the morning - and the lovely Cape winter weather certainly kept everyone alert!

The final stop of the field trip was on the shore of Milnerton Lagoon. Here the water is far fresher than at the river mouth, and the children got to sample a different set of biota and conditions.

Observations that were made along the way were all recorded - the scientific investigations that the Marine Science Explorers made on the first day when looking at photosynthesis were an introduction to the scientific method that would be applied here for their final experimental interpretation. The lessons were being brought full circle.

Time to turn all that data into science!

Back at the Aquarium, there was a final morning of scientific enquiry and an assessment based on what had been learned throughout the weeks.

The final day of the course saw each learner completing a final assignment based on what they had learned and experienced during the previous week.

At the end of the course, each participating learner was given a certificate of completion, reflecting the average result of the assessments they completed throughout the week - all 51 of these children achieved scores to be proud of.

Thank for being a great class, and thank you again for making this all possible parents, Averda and our incredible teachers.

Thanks for being a fun, enthusiastic and passionate Marine Science Explorer class of 2018!

Ocean education for your kids

There are many ways your children can get involved in environmental education opportunities at the Aquarium. Here are a few of the most popular options:

If you would like to make a booking for your class, get involved in one of the above courses or are an adult looking for training opportunities or to take part in our job shadowing programme, please visit our Environmental Education Centre portal for more information and the relevant contact details.

Thank you for making this incredible course possible Averda and the Environmental Education team.

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