In less than a year, Anzio Abels has visited 83 schools in the Cape Metropole and taught 10 301 students

Between April 2015 and February 2016, Two Oceans Aquarium Smart Living Outreach Educator Anzio Abels visited 83 schools in the Cape Metropole and taught 10 301 students. His topic? Sustainability. His secret weapon? That smile!

At the Aquarium, we have amplified the City of Cape Town’s Smart Living programme in a number of ways. Our Environmental Education Centre hosts an annual free course for grade 7s (sponsored by the City), and in December we launched the Smart Living Challenge Zone, an interactive digital suite of games for our visitors to engage with key environmental issues such as waste, water, energy and protecting our biodiversity. There’s also a travelling puppet show and accompanying book for children between 3 and 9 years old.

The Smart Living Outreach programme is driven by the passionate, conservation-minded teacher Anzio Abels. Anzio was one of our first Young Biologists (in 2001) and worked here as a volunteer before going on to complete his degree in conservation biology at the University of the Western Cape. He then worked at Eagle Encounters in Stellenbosch, where he assisted the raptor rehabilitation centre with their awareness, eco-tourism and education programmes.

Thanks to the sponsored Smart Living Outreach vehicle, we can take the smart living message to schools who can't afford to come to us

“Conservation has always been my thing,” says Anzio, “and I’ve always liked to spread that message. Conservation in general – not specifically birds of prey or certain animals. In the environment, everything’s linked, so looking after one aspect helps the other.”

Anzio got snapped up by the Aquarium early last year, when the Environmental Education Centre got ready to roll out the Smart Living Outreach programme with funding support from the City of Cape Town.

In the new Smart Living Outreach vehicle, Anzio’s nine-to-five entails travelling out to schools to present a 45- to one-hour-long lesson to grade 7s around waste, water, electricity or biodiversity.

“When we talk about ‘smart living’,” says Anzio, “it’s about sustainability, living in a sustainable manner. Saving water, reducing our waste, saving electricity, how we generate electricity, and also looking after our biodiversity.

“I try to keep the lessons in line with the curriculum, so at the moment grade 7s are learning about biodiversity. Their third term deals with energy and climate change, which is when I bring in the electricity component, and then I split the water and waste elements into the second and third terms. It helps keep them on track with what they’re learning at school.”

Interactive learning keeps students engaged

Keeping kids’ attention can be a challenge, but our Environmental Education Centre prides itself on hands-on, fun and interactive learning, whether it happens within our Discovery Centres or in outreach situations.

“When we do our Smart Living lessons, it’s very much hands-on and visual. They don’t need to write down anything, which kids enjoy. It’s interactive, tactile … We try to use everything around them in their everyday lives to teach the lessons.

“We also have an environmental message for each of our lessons, so for example with biodiversity we talk about threats like pollution, invasive species, over-exploitation, and habitat loss.

Late last year, Anzio explained the Smart Living Outreach work to City of Cape Town Councillor Dave Bryant

“The example that I’m using at the moment is the western leopard toad. It’s localised, it’s something we can relate to, something we can find in our backyards, and I tell them about how habitat loss is affecting this animal, and what this animal’s role in the ecosystem is. Why it’s important for this animal to be looked after.”

When asked what his secret is to holding the classes’ attention, he says: “I smile a lot!”

Anzio finds the breadth and depth of these four sustainability themes very gratifying. “We can make the direct link between humans and conservation. When we talk about conservation we have to involve people, and this deals with different aspects of our interaction with the environment.”

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