Education is at the forefront of the Two Oceans Aquarium’s mission and our bi-annual Young Biologist Course is one of our favourites to run.

De Beers Marine is one of our longstanding sponsors; in fact, this year they will be sponsoring our October holiday Young Biologist Course for the 10th year!

Lesley Roos, Environmental Manager at De Beers Marine, says: “Operating sustainably sits at the heart of the De Beers business strategy – it’s about leaving a positive and lasting legacy. The Two Oceans Aquarium, through the Young Biologist Course, does just that by empowering young people through education.

"Over the years we have played witness to the inspiration that this course provides. The graduation ceremonies are met with eager anticipation by the graduates (affectionately termed YBs) and a sense of camaraderie is bred from shared experiences. We have seen YBs inspired to pursue tertiary education in environmental disciplines and many YBs continuing with the Aquarium’s volunteer programme and becoming ambassadors for the environment. Each year we are wowed by the exceptional standard attained by the students and by their commitment to volunteering. We are proud to be associated with the Two Oceans Aquarium through the Young Biologist Course and trust that there will be many more stories of inspiration to be shared.”

We are immensely grateful for the continued support De Beers Marine offers us and wanted to show this appreciation through our Young Biologists. In my mission to find a diverse group of YBs spread across the last 10 years it has been interesting to read their responses to my questions. When asked whether the YB course had influenced their career choice, Tahlia Henry who did the course in 2007, said: “Yes! I already knew what I was going to study after school but the YB course was the perfect platform to build my knowledge about the ocean and provide excellent experience in the field.” Tahlia is a physical oceanographer who is working at Bayworld Centre for Research and Education in Port Elizabeth. She is also busy completing her honours degree.

Tahlia Henry at her YB camp in 2007 competing in the potjie competition

Daanyaal Loofer, who completed his YB course in 2013, is currently completing Grade 12. His thoughts about how the course influenced his career choices: “I had an interest in marine biology in Grade 9. Around the same time I heard from my school about the Sea Fans Course, which I immediately knew I had to attend, and from then my interest grew. The work I have done at the aquarium has stimulated my passion for the field and allowed me to understand and respect the environment greatly.” Daanyaal wants to either complete a BSc in Applied Biology at UCT or a BSc in Medical Bioscience at UWC in 2016.

Daanyaal Loofer won a dive course with fellow YB Raashidah for volunteering the highest number of hours six months after graduation. Image by Thabo Sabeko
Simon Leigh, one of our YBs-turned-Aquarist showing Harry the Mole Snake to our visitors. Image by Katja Rockstroh

Simon Leigh, a YB way back in 2006, says: “The YB course wasn’t an influence, it was the reason for my career choice. The YB course opened up the possibility of working at the aquarium and with marine life. I didn’t know that I belonged in the marine field until I did the YB course.” After finishing high school, Simon worked with us as an Aquarist for a year until he headed off to Rhodes University to study ichthyology. He promptly returned from university with a degree and is now employed full time at the Two Oceans Aquarium.

Eesaa Harris playing cricket at his YB camp in Kommetjie. Image by Katja Rockstroh

Eesaa Harris (YB 2012) is currently taking a gap year, but wants to study marine biology and oceanography in 2016. During his gap year he has been volunteering and working at the Two Oceans Aquarium, and similarly to Simon, the course has influenced his career choice: “It opened up my mind to the amazing creatures that occur in the ocean and the many mysteries that remain undiscovered.”

Okara Opara, who only completed her course last year (2014) may not want to become a marine biologist, but says the course “has changed the way we live as a family. I am now responsible for making sure that all the plastic in our household is recycled by taking it to school, since our neighbourhood doesn't do recycling (sadly).” Okara plans to study medicine and specialise in neurosurgery.

Okara Opara doing the YB camp clean-up in Kleinmond. Image by Matthew Orolowitz

Another YB alumnus from 2008, Talitha Noble, completed her honours degree in marine biology at UCT in 2014. In her words, she is “now looking for opportunities to work in the marine field, wanting to ultimately do something that has a strong conservation and education element, but that allows me to keep my toes salty and be adventurous on a daily basis.” 

Talitha Noble helped behind-the-scenes on a regular basis, including the cleaning of exhibits and feeding of fish. Image by Charissa Noble
Matthew Orolowitz taking part in the annual ‘Waddle for a Week’ campaign in 2013. Image by Katja Rockstroh

It becomes clear that the YB course has influenced some of the course participants a great deal, but none more so it seems, than Matthew Orolowitz, a YB from 2011 who is completing a BSc in Biodiversity and Ecology at the University of Stellenbosch. He says the following: “To be honest, initially I really wasn’t impressed to find out that the course was more like school during the holidays, but as it progressed it grew on me, to the degree that I consider that course life-changing. It’s easy to sugar-coat and promote something that is sub-standard, however the Young Biologist Course, and I don’t use this term lightly, changed my life. I truly don’t think even Russell Stevens (our Head of Education) himself, could have envisaged the profound effect and impact the course has on its participants.

“For me personally, it gave me so much more than a better understanding of our oceans; it had a profound impact in other areas of my life that one would not expect a course of this nature to have. Not only are the effects on the academic aspect of my life, but also personally and socially. I have been directly involved with three of these courses and to be honest, each one has been truly special, in its own way. You just can’t separate or isolate one particular fond memory, as it would be a serious injustice. The importance of the course speaks for itself as four years down the line it is still having an effect on me.”

Most of the YBs share their fondest memory of the course: Camp! The course is part theory at the Two Oceans Aquarium and part camp, where fun things like rocky shore exploration and a concert take place. Simon however feels that his “fondest memory of the course is that it was the start of the road to where I am now and I wouldn’t be doing what I am now without it.” Daanyaal, on the other hand, lists his fondest memory as “simply meeting so many unique people who I have built great bonds with and continue to appreciate to this day.” Talitha feels that the course “allowed [her] to peek into the door of marine biology, see what [it was] like and made [her] decide to keep [her] foot wedged in the door after realising that the ocean was [her] passion.”

Do you want to become a YB? Here is your chance. Applications for the October course are open. Please contact Katja on education@aquarium.co.za to get application forms. Deadline for applications is 2 September 2015.

The Young Biologist Course is part of our Marine Science Academy.

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