The month of September was a special one –  Two Oceans Aquarium Head of Education Russell Stevens was invited to attend the 2017 Asia Marine Educators Association (AMEA) and the Philippine Association of Extension Program Implementers (PAEPI) conferences.

Two Oceans Aquarium Head of Education Russell Stevens stands at the welcoming of the AMEA Conference in Manila. The South African flag flies as high and proud as the other partner countries’ flags.

Russell was pivotal in providing a South African perspective to the AMEA and the presentations he made on behalf of the Two Oceans Aquarium were well received. 

Russell says he was received as a "person of wisdom" by other delegates - his experience in working with diverse South African communities enabled him to facilitate cooperation and respect across this multi-cultural group: Taiwan, Japan, the UK, China, South Africa, the Philippines and the USA were all represented.

“Attending conferences such as this, allows me to discover the extent to which we rely upon the incredible work that the Two Oceans Aquarium staff put into their portfolios. We stand on the shoulders of extraordinary colleagues from all departments across the company. In relation to this story, our accomplished Environmental Education team allowed me to present about the exceptional programmes which we offer and plan to offer. I am humbled by the great and growing reputation of our Aquarium and its educational efforts.” – Two Oceans Aquarium Head of Education Russell Stevens

The “Three Cs” of AMEA

The theme of the AMEA conference was “the three Cs”, a play on “three seas” - cooperation, collaboration and coordination.  Considering the language barriers, the levels of collaboration that the participants managed to reach in the time available was commendable, says Russell.

Russell Stevens sits on the AMEA Advisory Board, facilitating the development of marine education programmes and principles. He holds this position together with representatives from universities and aquaria in the USA, China, Japan, South Korea, Bangladesh and the Philippines.

The AMEA was hosted by the Maritime Academy of Asia and the Pacific (MAAP) in Bataan, Philippines – an important ally in environmental education as it is responsible for the training of more than 40% of all merchant mariners in the world.

High-tech simulators like this have grown MAAP into the largest maritime education facility in the world.

At AMEA, Russell presented on the Two Oceans Aquarium’s recently drafted and proposed Marine Sciences Curriculum – a plan is currently underway to have Marine Sciences added as an official high school subject in South Africa.

Russell attends the AMEA Conference, together with colleagues from Bangladesh.

Russell says that this was the presentation he put the most time into – not only as an opportunity to maximise the exposure of the meaningful work the Aquarium team has done on this curriculum, but also to gain as much feedback as possible from the Asian marine education community. This presentation was very well received and earned a special award of recognition. Russell himself was awarded for being the second best presenter of the conference.

Russell has developed a friendship with Vice Admiral Santos. Formerly head of the Philippine navy, he and Russell now share ideas on the future of maritime education. 

Talking education at PAEPI

Following on from the AMEA was the PAEPI conference with the theme "Ocean Literacy for the Protection of the Environment". PAEPI is a grouping of professionals from accredited higher education institutions, NGOs and governmental agencies involved in projects and activities of development and upliftment within communities.  

Multiple awards were presented to Russell and the Two Oceans Aquarium at PAEPI by the Vice Chancellor of Pasig University.

At the PAEPI Conference at the University of Pasig, Russell presented on “Fostering Love, Respect and Understanding to Save the Ocean” and “Outreach Programmes offered at the Two Oceans Aquarium".

There was much interest in the Two Oceans Aquarium’s mobile outreach vehicles - educational technology that is able to take marine education into communities was viewed with the same respect and enthusiasm as high-tech ROV submarines!

Educational technology was as enthusiastically viewed as scientific instruments - like this demonstrative ROV submersible assembled by Doug Levin of Washington College

Lessons from across the ocean

Asian communities face many of the same challenges that South Africa is currently experiencing, says Russell: poverty, inequality and poor education. "Not only is collaboration with the East a way for us to gain insight into how we can surmount these challenges in our own country, but it is also an opportunity for us to use the world-leading educational programmes at the Two Oceans Aquarium to reach a larger global community - one that has many of the same problems we do."

“It is in Asia where the stark realities of this planet strike home. In Manila my throat was croaky for the week as I breathed the worst-quality air that I have ever breathed. I arrived a few days earlier to work on my presentations and to acclimatise. But I took time to walk through some streets in a slum area. They reminded me of our Cape Town townships, early Crossroads and Nyanga of the 1980s and Khayelitsha of today. Common characteristics are the mud-soaked puddles that filled pot holes, and roads made from chunks, builders rubble, clay and mud, barking dogs, diesel and petrol fume-soaked air. Two minutes away in the high-towered hotel, multinational television screens sounded the drums of Korean conflicts and the quiets before hurricanes Harvey and Irma.” – Two Oceans Aquarium Head of Education Russell Stevens

Meeting the locals at a community fish smoking plant in Bataan, sponsored by the provincial government and tourism department.

The Two Oceans Aquarium was exceptionally well received. For example, Ocean Literacy in Bangladesh acknowledges us together with world leaders in other fields - MSEA, NMEA, AMEA, NOAA and TOA (that's an impressive list to be on).

Doug Levin (USA) demonstrating the drifting boat which has a GPS tracker for school students to follow after its release. Doug’s colleague is flying to South Africa to bring us one and will coordinate the launch with UCT Oceanography and the Two Oceans Aquarium.

Being recognised as a world leader in marine education and outreach programmes is a reputation well earned by our education team, and we hope to continue to use this reputation to facilitate positive environmental change and learning in communities far beyond Cape Town. 

International collaboration will continue long after this conference. Li-Shu (Taiwan) is Russell's informal Mandarin coach, teaching him the language using WhatsApp voice notes.

From school visits, a free Marine Sciences Academy and eco-camps, to mobile outreach vehicles, environmental puppet shows for preschoolers and in-depth volunteer programmes, Russell and his team are carrying out exceptional work. You can learn more about the incredible work our education team is doing and how you can get involved here.

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