“Only through understanding will the underwater world be assured a future.”

What do we mean when we call ourselves a "teaching aquarium"? Those of you watching M-Net's The Wild Ones may hear this term being used fairly often, but how does the Two Oceans Aquarium actually live up to this concept, what do we do to ensure that every visitor or every race, creed, culture and age can learn a valuable ocean conservation lesson?

What lessons does the ocean have to impart? And how can we help it reach as many people as possible?

Let's take a look at what the Aquarium does to achieve this goal.

“People are often very surprised that the city doesn't give us money. The government doesn't give us money. We are a stand-alone facility that needs to attract visitors so that we can pay our bills and also so that we can do the conservation, education, and research that we do. That is our purpose.” – Michael Farquhar, CEO

In an age of social media, generating lifelong memories, creative stories and engaging messages are key to creating a generation that is environmentally conscious.

Animal ambassadors

The Aquarium is home to over 8 000 animals. Fish, corals, amphibians, crustaceans, birds, reptiles and jellies - these diverse and marvellous animals are not here merely to entertain, they are here to inspire wonder. Like true ambassadors, they carry a message - their home, the ocean, is under threat and they want you to act. The Aquarium is giving this message a voice so that it is heard as widely as possible.

“They are here to be studied and they also teach the public about jellyfish themselves, because we are a teaching aquarium and we want people to know more about the ocean.” – Krish Lewis, Aquarist

Fascination is the first step to conservation - we protect what we care about. Our aim is to leave visitors fascinated by the ocean and educated enough to appreciate its fragility.

The Aquarium also offers an opportunity to meet these ocean ambassadors up close and personal - a lasting memory of a beautiful animal is also a lasting message of the need to protect them:

“Penguins are monogamous. They do stay together for life, which is one of the most amazing things and something we as humans can also learn from.” – Shanet Rutgers, Aquarist/Penguin Keeper

Happy Feet was cute, but there is one sure way to truly connect with an animal and learn to love and to protect it.

Internships and volunteer programmes:

The chance to work hands-on with animals, especially in a marine environment, is one that is not easily achievable - especially with no job experience. The Aquarium supports a large number of interns and volunteers, starting their careers in scuba diving, marine biology or animal husbandry. Here's what intern Razaan Keur had to say about her experience:

"I started volunteering at the Aquarium after doing the volunteer course in 2012. After doing that there was a 'front of house' section where I had to volunteer for 45 hours, but the moment I hit that mark I came behind-the-scenes to help Mmameli Mpukumpa with the food preparation and wherever else I could.

With behind-the-scenes volunteering you have to start off with food preparation, but I hit the 80-hour mark and I approached Penguin Keeper Shanet Rutgers and asked if I could be a penguin volunteer. She said 'yes', and since then I've been penguining.

Then last year, while I was studying my Honours, I became an intern, and I would come in every second week to do two shifts, one with the penguins and one with food preparation. The cool thing about starting an internship at the Aquarium was that they were very flexible to my time and availability."

Interns and volunteers get thrown right into the thick of things. Here CPUT work-integrated-learning intern Marco Loubscher gets the coral reef tank ready for the Aquarium's opening. On other days Marco might be given different duties, like helping the Environmental Education Centre with a fieldtrip.

"This year I got a direct internship at the Aquarium and have started working with the sea turtles. It's nice that I'm done with my studies, because it gives me a chance to work more behind the scenes - in quarantine, with turtles. I like to come in as often as possible!

For me this has all been an amazing experience. When you start as a volunteer you don't need any experience with penguins or any other animal. The aquarists are really helpful and they teach you as much as they can about their exhibits when you work with them. It's a really cool way to learn!"

We'll be sharing more information about the next free volunteers' course and upcoming internship opportunities soon. Keep an eye on our Facebook page to be the first to get these details.

Beyond the Aquarium

The need to conserve our ocean does not vanish simply because it is not realised - we feel it is our duty as a Capetonian institution to do everything in our power to educate and empower the people of Cape Town and South Africa at large to make informed life choices that are in the best interest of our ocean.

“The harsh consequence of our impact on these creatures is a sad reality. It highlights the need for the education that the Aquarium strives to achieve.”

Discarded fishing line? A box strap? The handle of a plastic shopping bag? It doesn't matter, every piece of plastic starts in human hands - we can control where it ends up.

“I feel very passionately about conservation and we do a lot of good at the Aquarium. I think that an environment that is focused on conserving and protecting animals, educates people, is an inspiring environment to be in.” – Talitha Noble, Conservation Coordinator

Children of all ages

There is no better time to start teaching a person how to be a responsible, ocean-loving citizen of our planet. The Aquarium has a wide variety of educational, ocean-inspired activities for children of all ages and class groups of all sizes.

“The education, the wide-eyed wonder of children. I remember when my son was a little boy, he just thought the ocean was a sand floor. He didn't realise all the kelp was growing there like a forest. And, yeah, the wonder of the place.” – Ronnie Hendricks, Volunteer

Here are just a few of the offerings of the Aquarium's Environmental Education Centre:

We'll be taking a look at the Two Oceans Aquarium's classrooms, teachers and Environmental Education Centre in greater detail soon. Keep an eye on our blog to be be first to know.

Confucius said: "I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand." The same principles apply to environmental education.

Conservation research

The Aquarium offers ongoing support to a variety of research projects - carried out by both our own staff and academics of leading South African universities. We are in the unique position to support these projects materially (eg. holding animals temporarily for observation), monetarily and by providing the time and expertise of our staff. 

These projects carry a diversity of topics, notably marine biodiversity conservation, parasitology, improved veterinary techniques and the biology of penguins, sea turtles, sharks, rays and jellyfish. One common thread links all this work - it is increasing the global understanding of the ocean, the ecosystems that depend on it and the effects humans are having on it.

“We're going to treat them with respect. We're going to look to learn from them.” – Xavier Zylstra, Deputy Head of Education

The ocean is dark, but through research and passion, much light is being shed on its magnificent mysteries.

Everything we do is about building a bond between you and the ocean. Tune into the M-Net 101 for the next episode of The Wild Ones: Aquarium: An Aquatic Life and discover reasons to fall in love with the ocean all over again.

Want to know more? #AskAnAquarist!

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