Credit: Christie Munro

The Two Oceans Aquarium Environmental Education Centre runs several enrichment courses for future natural historians with a particular interest in marine topics. Collectively, these courses are known as the Marine Science Academy, and thanks to the support of incredible sponsors, like I&J, we are able to offer these courses for free to learners from Grade 6 to Matric. The Marine Science Academy courses culminate in two five-day academic courses offered to Grade 11s and 12s who are considering studying marine sciences at a tertiary level, one on aspects of zoology and the second on oceanography.

We were overjoyed to hear that the 2019 "Exploring Marine Sciences" courses would continue to receive sponsorship from I&J, a long-term supporter of our environmental education goals. Application forms were sent to all local schools on our database and the participants of the 2018 Grade 10 Young Biologist programme. We went through all the letters of motivation and recommendations from teachers and selected 54 candidates, after having to turn down those applicants whose school exam results indicated that they would simply not be able to keep up with the fast academic pace of these Grade 11 courses. Apart from local learners, we were happy to welcome 12 candidates from KwaZulu-Natal, Gauteng, Eastern Cape and the Free State too.

Credit: Kirshia Koumbatis/Two Oceans Aquarium

What is oceanography anyway?

Experimenting with density. Credit: Christie Munro

Oceanography, also known as oceanology or marine science, is the branch of earth science that studies the ocean. It covers a wide range of topics, including marine organisms and ecosystem dynamics such as ocean currents, waves, geophysical fluid dynamics, plate tectonics and the geology of the seafloor. The benefit of studying oceanography allows one to study the diverse topics and multiple disciplines that oceanographers need to have such as astronomy, biology, chemistry, climatology, geology, hydrology, meteorology and physics in order to understand the world's ocean and related processes. Offering oceanography to learners in high schools gives them an opportunity to apply their knowledge from physics, chemistry and life science in a more practical way.

Our Aquarium teacher, Kirshia Koumbatis, course coordinator with a background in marine biology, oceanography and education, introduced this multidisciplinary approach to marine science. The content was based on a second-year tertiary introduction to oceanography, thus providing the learners intending to study further with a better understanding of the content and what to expect when studying oceanography.

The Environmental Education Centre was the hub for group work and experiments. Credit: Christie Munro

What did the learners get up to?

At the beginning of July, the selected candidates began five days of intensive oceanography as part one of "Exploring Marine Sciences" - this course was fairly intense! It addressed topics crucial to the understanding of ocean dynamics, with each day scaffolding the content from the previous day. Four themes were focused upon. The course was presented as a series of subject-based lectures, accompanied by videos to assist the understanding of the content. Each learner was given a workbook which highlighted the content they would need to know and also prompted learners to make their own notes from the lessons, thus introducing the tertiary form of instruction. The course made extensive use of experiential learning through chemistry experiments and hands-on learning, which the learners thoroughly enjoyed. A pre-test was also done, based on the content to be covered, so that the level of prior knowledge could be established. The pre-test result for the course was an average of 30%. The candidates rewrote the test at the end of the course, and attained an average of 64%, indicating that significant learning was taking place.

Credit: Christie Munro

On day one, the geology section gave an overview of the origin of the earth, plate tectonics, the topography of the ocean floor, ocean sediments, coastal formations and a synopsis of the geology that makes up the rocks and beaches found around the Cape Peninsula.

The second day focussed on the properties of water. This included an introduction to the chemistry of water, the transfer of energy through water (heat, light and sound) and the pressure laws used for scuba diving.

Learners learned how to use a Secchi Disc to measure light intensity and water turbidity. Credit: Kirshia Koumbatis/Two Oceans Aquarium

Day three’s focus was the atmosphere, its composition, its layers, the circulatory patterns and weather experienced around the globe.

Day four introduced learners to physical oceanography content that included movement of water around the planet, the gyres, thermohaline circulation, weather-related local circulations, tides, waves and tsunamis. The content gained from this day prepared learners for a presentation by an Oceanographer, regarding inspiring career experiences and to introduce oceanography equipment used to explore the ocean, this will be presented during the zoology course.

Credit: Christie Munro

Day three and five gave the learners an opportunity to apply the knowledge gained from the course with a more practical approach. The class collected water samples at Milnerton Lagoon and Noordhoek and tested the water quality using different instruments provided and had to discuss why each water sample was different and what could have influenced the difference. Part two of their practical was to identify coastal features, such as waves, types of sediment, slopes of the beach and thus develop a beach profile.

In addition to the coastal field trips, learners had the opportunity to visit Chapmans Peak, where Devon Bowen, a geologist and our Online Content Executive, introduced the local geology, landforms and rock types. The day ended off with a class discussion and group presentations in relation to their scientific articles.

The class examined the Cape Peninsular's geological history at the Chapman's Peak Lookout. Credit: Kirshia Koumbatis/Two Oceans Aquarium

We achieved a great deal from the course, with good feedback from learners. This course aimed to nurture interest among the learners to study science, to introduce the different elements that make up the field of oceanography and to supplement the Two Oceans Aquarium's goals of creating awareness of marine science knowledge.

Thank you to all the amazing staff and volunteers that made this course possible. Credit: Kirshia Koumbatis/Two Oceans Aquarium

Feedback from the learners was unanimous in praise for the enthusiastic presenters, the ability to work with real scientific equipment, to engage with real scientists and scientific research. Thank you to I&J for providing the sponsorship which made this memorable experience possible.

Other educational opportunities:

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.

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