02 April 2013

I&J Young Biologist Course – day one

Katja Rockstroh

It’s that time of year again – time for the I&J Young Biologist Course! Forty-nine eager, and dare I say, rather nervous Grade 11 students from all over Cape Town arrived at the Aquarium on the morning of 1 April 2013 to take part in this now annual course (there were even two students who came all the way from St Mary’s School in Johannesburg).

Registration took place in the morning, giving us, the staff, a chance to connect names with faces, as well as relating motivational letters with each student. Since this course is kindly sponsored by I&J, it is free of charge, and so participants are chosen based purely on their motivational letters. Some letters are of such high calibre, making it an interesting experience to finally meet the author.

After a short introduction and welcome from Xavier Zylstra, our senior teacher and course coordinator, at the I&J Predator Exhibit, the new “young biologists” (YBs) were taken to the Upper Discovery Centre by our three YB helpers, who completed their course in October 2012.

As an ice-breaker and to get the new YBs thinking, we got them to come up with rules for the course that everybody should adhere to. Here is what some of them came up with:

  • “Have fun!”
  • “Be punctual!”
  • “Respect each other and the environment.”
  • “Do not litter, make the world glitter.”
  • “Be willing to learn.”
  • “Share as much as possible ... except food.”
One of the more colourful ‘rule posters’ the YBs came up with. All photos by Katja Rockstroh

Once the students had presented these rules to their peers, we jumped straight into the first theory session. As all of these YBs will become qualified volunteers of the Aquarium by the end of this programme, we have to cover a lot of theory in a short space of time – four days to be exact. An introduction to the two oceans around our coast sent the YBs into the Aquarium to have a look at exhibits representing our coasts.

Some of the new YBs in front of our tropical exhibit in the Indian Ocean Gallery looking at water clarity, the presence of plants, and the appearance of the fish

After lunch, Xavier explained what tides are all about. Did you know that spring tide is not named after the season specifically, but after the actual word “spring”, which also means to jump or rise?

Xavier Zylstra, the course coordinator and senior teacher

The last topic of the day was fish – all fish, such as bony, jawless and cartilaginous fish. The theme here was to look at the main differences between these three groups of fish and why they have been divided in this way.

The awesome part of having baby shy sharks in our Discovery Centres is to use them as ambassadors. Here a YB feels a shark for the first time

At the end of the first day, everyone was a bit more comfortable and less nervous than in the morning. It’s always great to have interested and like-minded people in the Aquarium, happy to soak up as much information as they can and ready to make a difference.


Find out more about the learning programmes we offer through our Environmental Educational Centre.

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