05 July 2010

Pleased to meet you: Aquarium Managing Director Dr Patrick Garratt

Two Oceans Aquarium
Dr Garratt, doing what he loves most

Patrick Garratt was born in Bulawayo and moved to Johannesburg when he was two years old. He spent his school years in Johannesburg and undertook his military service in the South African Navy, during which time he was fortunate enough to survive the sinking of the tuna fishing vessel Dolphin, which sank 16 nautical miles off Cape Point. 

After the navy he moved to what is now KwaZulu-Natal to attend university. He completed his BSc in Pietermaritzburg in 1975 and promptly went into commercial fishing, operating a commercial ski-boat on the south coast of KwaZulu-Natal during 1976 and 1977. His savings allowed him to return to university in Durban, where he completed a BSc (Hons) in 1978. In 1979, he was awarded a research post at the Oceanographic Research Institute in Durban and survived his second disaster at sea in that same year. A ski-boat from which he was fishing overturned in rough seas and he spent 22 hours in the water, taking a breath every few seconds before the next wave broke over the sinking boat! He and his fishing partners were extremely lucky to be spotted by an ore carrier 34 nautical miles off Durban’s coastline and they were finally rescued by a South African Air Force (SAAF) helicopter. 

Patrick’s research on the deep reef fish of KwaZulu-Natal continued until 1992, during which time he completed his MSc and PhD – the former investigating the line fishery of KwaZulu-Natal while the latter extended this research into the phenomenon of sex change in exploited fish populations and its effects on fisheries modelling.

He has published over 50 scientific papers and is co-author of The South African Fisherman (1989, Struik Timmins). He was cruise leader on 36 research cruises and collecting trips for Sea World in Durban (now a part of uShaka Marine World), and his increasing interest and experience in collecting, transporting and displaying animals for the Aquarium led to him to apply for the post of curator of Sea World in 1992. 

In 1994, he was offered the post of curator of the yet-to-be-built Two Oceans Aquarium and came to Cape Town to provide training to a team of young, inexperienced staff in the fields of diving, animal collecting, animal transport and husbandry, and to design and stock the new Aquarium. This was achieved in a record-breaking 18 months, allowing the Aquarium to open to the public in November 1995. He remained curator of the Aquarium until September 2003, when he was appointed managing director after the retirement of Lex Fearnhead. 

Patrick has been an avid fisherman since his early childhood and fishing has remained a hobby throughout his life as well as providing him with his livelihood for a few years. During his navy days, he opted to join the military police so that he could fish for half the month. Today he takes to the mountains to fly-fish at every opportunity.

“I turned to fly-fishing because I became disenchanted with shore fishing in the sea – it has become so unproductive … but I still love going to sea and when I am out there, I experience absolute peace. I have now found that same peace in the mountains – an amazing place for the soul,” he explains.

When asked why he chose a career in marine biology, he responded emphatically, “Cousteau!” While at boarding school, Patrick was exposed to Jacques Cousteau’s early films, which painted “an incredible picture of marine biology, filled with diving and fishing”. He recalls, “The only conscious or rather serious decision I made regarding my career was to become involved in something that really mattered – as far as I was concerned this had to involve either education or science”.

The world of the Two Oceans Aquarium provides both.

Patrick is excited about the Aquarium’s future: “I’m very proud of the Two Oceans Aquarium. We have achieved some incredible successes and I am looking forward to the next phase in the Aquarium’s history, which involves expansion and some really exciting exhibits.” His vision for the Aquarium is that it becomes the best environmental education centre in the country while contributing significantly to conservation. “It’s great to be involved in something so meaningful and worthwhile – and of which I am really proud!”

He currently serves as the chairman of the International Aquarium Congress steering committee, is vice chairman of the International Aquarium Forum and sits on the advisory boards of AfriOceans Conservation Alliance (AOCA) and the publication Simply Green.

Patrick is married to Alice Ashwell, a freelance environmental educator, who for six years headed up the Environmental Education Centre at Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden.

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