The Two Oceans Aquarium Environmental Education Centre provides a platform for aspiring marine biologists to explore their passion by joining our Marine Science Academy programme from a young age. A number of enrichment courses are offered to scholars during their school holidays and over some term-time weekends. For grade 6 students we offer the Junior Biologist (JB) course, which is sponsored by I&J. This hands-on and fun learning experience introduces students to marine science, marine plants and marine animals.
Due to an overwhelming demand for the JB course this year, we decided to offer two courses in 2016. Application forms were sent to all local schools on our database and local natural science subject advisors also encouraged teachers to spark interest amongst their pupils. Where several applications came from one school, we generally limited the applicants to about two per school, in order to spread the representation across as many schools as possible.
And so it was that the second JB course for the year was held over three Saturdays: on 16, 23 and 30 July. The course dealt with topics crucial to the understanding of marine science, such as earth sciences, ecosystems, an introduction to plants and marine animals, and human impacts on the marine environment, with each week building on the content from the previous week.
On the first day of the course, the students were slightly nervous, excited to start their journey with the Marine Science Academy. Each day started at 9am and ended at 3:30pm. Each pupil was given a book, which highlighted the content they would need to learn and also prompted pupils to make their own notes from the lessons. The course made extensive use of hands-on learning when possible to encourage learning.
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 38%. The candidates rewrote the test, at the end of the course, and attained an average of 70%, indicating that significant learning took place.
Day one was all about water: the importance of it, how much we have of it, and all the nature processes it’s involved in. We also explored condensation, evaporation, transpiration and sublimation in detail. Then we looked at the supercontinent Pangea, and students were tasked with separating a Pangea puzzle into Earth’s current time.
The students were then introduced to ecosystems and species through a fascinating talk in front of the Ocean Basket Kelp Forest Exhibit, itself a small contained ecosystem with a big variety of plants and animals. Then, the students were given the opportunity to explore the Aquarium with an “animal treasure hunt” activity. We looked at the differences between the Indian and Atlantic oceans, and students were introduced to the biology of three animals: the sea star, sea urchin and sea anemone.
We wrapped up with an introduction to fynbos in preparation for the field trip that followed.
Day two started with a trip to the Green Point Park and Biodiversity Garden where students had to identify common fynbos plants and present their individual findings to other groups. That was followed by an excursion to Mouille Point during low tide so that students could explore the rocky shores and find a variety of marine invertebrates and plants. We then returned to the Aquarium to further explore topics around rocky shore plants and animals.
The sea plant lessons resulted in brilliant discussions about how often we use the by-products of plants in various foods and cosmetics.
We were also very fortunate to have a guest speaker, Tom Foster, who shared amazing footage about his experience with sharks. This was very enlightening and the students thoroughly enjoyed the presentation. We wrapped up the day with a focus on wetland food chains, the importance and impacts on our wetlands.
Day three kicked off with an interactive session on sharks and fish. Students were introduced to the Southern African Sustainable Seafood Initiative (SASSI) and informed about sustainable fishing and about how to make the right choices as seafood consumers. Then, in two successive groups, the students walked to the V&A Clock Tower, where the Ocean Adventurer was waiting for them. This beautiful catamaran took the students on a guided tour just outside the harbour.
The boat trip not only showed off the diversity of marine life in the area, but also drew attention to the pollution in the harbour and students were made aware of the issues of plastic pollution.
According to the feedback from students, they particularly loved the enthusiastic presenters, the chance to work with real scientific equipment, to engage with real animals, and to explore the marine life. A huge thanks to I&J for sponsoring this memorable experience possible – not once, but twice this year.