12 March 2013

Inspiration – the breath of life

Helen Lockhart

“What inspires you in your work at the Aquarium?” is a question I posed at a recent workshop with some of my colleagues.

“Conversations with colleagues and positive stories, especially from other aquariums around the world,” said one of my colleagues. Another commented: “I am inspired by the Aquarium’s impact on our visitors and those who come into contact with us.” Someone else shared that she is inspired by “the ethics of the Aquarium in relation to the care of animals, its impact on the environment and operating consciously”.

See some of our staff’s other responses in the video below:


Working at the Aquarium provides me with inspiration almost every day. Sometimes it’s the dramatic stuff, such as the compassionate response of my colleagues to a staff member who had lost his home and all his belongings in a fire. People brought in all sorts of household items, and our technical team went to Khayelitsha and spent several days there, helping to rebuild the house.

Another big event was Khonzani Lembeni’s spellbinding presentation at TEDxSeaPoint. Knowing his history and journey, I was filled with pride watching Khonzani weave his magic with the audience, while confidently sharing his knowledge about and passion for the oceans.

At other times I am inspired by the small moments which would go by unnoticed if I wasn’t paying attention. For example, the delicate and coy courtship dance of the Knysna seahorses, or an Aquarium diver stroking the back of Yoshi as he interacts with the turtle during feeding time.

Sometimes I am inspired simply by the quiet awe of visitors sitting in front of our Ocean Basket Kelp Forest, or by the iridescent colours of yellowtail as they are illuminated by sunlight in the I&J Predator Exhibit.

It occurred to me while we were talking, that inspiration is linked to breath (the word “inspire” comes from the Latin spirare which means “to breathe”). Without inspiration we would lead dull lives, simply going through the motions and routines. Without inspiration, we have no dreams. Without inspiration, we have less energy and motivation to live boldly and fully engaged. We need inspiration to make a difference in our lives, and in the lives of others. With inspiration comes awareness, and with awareness come hope and gratitude.

Maybe this is the reason that I have worked here at the Aquarium for close on 18 years. Back in 1999 I wrote: “Every day I am surrounded by animals which continually surprise, entertain, astound and teach me about the mysteries of their kind.” This statement still holds true today, except now I also acknowledge the human animals that surprise, entertain, astound and teach me!

I’ve been incredibly fortunate to have met and/or worked with a number of inspirational people, including my colleagues at the Aquarium, who are working tirelessly on behalf of the oceans in different ways. These include Sylvia Earle,Jean-Michel Cousteau, Elin Kelsey, Noel and Belinda Ashton, Mike Markovina and Linda Schonknecht, Chris and Monique Fallows, Marcus Eriksen and Anna Cummins, Simon MAX Bannister and Hanli Prinsloo, to name just a few.

See Elin Kelsey’s keynote speech from last year’s IAC below:


My personal challenge for the rest of the year is to constantly find new ways to inspire others, and be an inspiration. More importantly, I need to keep asking: “How can I inspire positive change for the good of the oceans and for the planet?”

In 2013 I pledge to:

  • Seek the presence of people who inspire me
  • Pay attention to detail – look for inspiration in the ordinary
  • Spend time in nature and learn more about the animals and plants that share this planet with us
  • Read about inspirational people and their actions
  • Share inspirational stories with others
  • Be the change I want to see

What inspires you? I hope that some aspect of the Aquarium features somewhere on your list.

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