In December 2015, six young women gathered in Cape Town to take part in the Save Our Seas Foundation’s Youth Ocean Ambassadorship (YOA) programme. Three of these young women were graduates of the Two Oceans Aquarium’s Young Biologist course – the other three were their peers from the Seychelles.

Photo © Save Our Seas Foundation/Nicholas Good

Together, they lived and worked in Kalk Bay, learning about the different aspects of careers in marine science: tourism, conservation, education and research.

Seal snorkelling time 

According to project coordinator Sunnye Collins, “Youngsters between the ages of 17 and 20 are at a crucial crossroads in their lives, making huge decisions about the way forward in their professional pursuits. Many of them say they want to go into marine science, but are often daunted by the rigorous academic demands that come with that career choice. And many leave the field before they even get started.

“Through this programme, I wanted to showcase some of the avenues on the map of marine science careers.”

Two Oceans Aquarium Young Biologists Casha de Vos, Genevieve Rochecouste and Thaakirah Saamai shared their experience with us.

Casha

Casha de Vos. Photo © Save Our Seas Foundation/Sunnye Collins

To me, the ocean is place of wonder, inspiration and infinite opportunities to learn. The ocean is my passion, my place of awe-inspiring beauty and my escape form studying, into a world of learning.

The YOA programme has helped to refocus my attention on what I want from a career in marine sciences. The programme was challenging and thought-inspiring, and introduced us to people who taught us that there are many different ways to make a difference in this world through marine science.

Taking care of a rescued seal pup

My favourite part was the people we got to meet. Their inspirational stories and their journeys make me excited for the road ahead. I enjoyed putting myself into the shoes of others and learning about our oceans through their viewpoints.

I also loved every minute we spent in and around the water, shark cage diving, seal snorkelling, exploring rock pools, going on boat trips and learning about our fishing industry.

Casha's favourite part of the YOA programme was the people she got to meet

As for my future, I plan on completing my degree in oceanography at the University of Cape Town and possibly doing an Honours degree thereafter. I am still not sure what exactly I want as a career, but I am sure I will be keeping the people I met on this programme, their stories, journeys and advice in mind.

Genevieve

Genevieve Rochecouste. Photo © Save Our Seas Foundation/Sunnye Collins

I heard about the YOA opportunity through the Two Oceans Aquarium early last year, and could not have expected all that it entailed! It was three weeks full of learning about our oceans and its life from various perspectives; from seal-snorkelling in Hout Bay and great white shark cage diving in Gansbaai, to inspecting the intricate relationships and adaptions of the intertidal zone in Dalebrook.

Amongst these experiences, what really got me was how small the marine biology community is. So small, and yet so impactful! I enjoyed meeting new people, hearing their journeys and having my mind stretched on marine life and the opportunities out there.

Water is an element I feel at peace in, and there’s just nothing like tumbling about in the waves. Having a body of water below you teeming with life demands respect for it, and I know each time I enter it or wish to study its life, I do so with this in mind.

Shark cage diving in Gansbaai

At the moment Marine Biology is the path I’m pursuing. I’m not sure which body of water/waters I will end up working with (and hopefully in) one day or which organisms I will study in finer detail, but I know that the ocean will always be a part of my life. I hope to do like many individuals I’ve encountered along my way and inspire others through my work and plant seeds of care for our oceans.

The biggest thanks must go to all the staff at the Two Oceans Aquarium who have really fuelled a lot of my knowledge in the marine realm, and continue to do so. As well as the coordinators of Save our Seas, the YOA team, individuals along the way and our great big body of water that brings us all together.

Thaakirah

Thaakirah Saamai. Photo © Save Our Seas Foundation/Sunnye Collins

My relationship with the ocean is one based purely on love. I love everything about it. I grew up five minutes away from the beach. It is because of that that I have such a deep respect for everything that involves the ocean. I was taught to love and respect everything from a young age, which is something that stayed with me.

During the programme I learnt many things, not only about the ocean but about myself as well. Everything I learnt is equally important, in one way or another.

The YOAs got to meet loads of people from the marine sciences community, including freediver Hanli Prinsloo (middle)

I learnt to be more confident and that not knowing the answer is OK, because it only means you will be learning more. I believe that, because the marine community is such a small but impactful community, if we all share our knowledge we're making a difference and no one can deny that. YOA has taught me that if you work hard and go after your dreams, anything is possible.

Observing the deployment of the shark exclusion net in False Bay

In the weeks of YOA, I was able to tick off more bucket-list items than most people get to do in their lifetimes. Honestly, my favourite thing was living and learning with the seven other females who have become my second family.

The future for me and the ocean? I'll still be a volunteer at the Two Oceans Aquarium and an avid beachgoer, but I'm also going to be focusing on my studies. I'm going to get my degree in education and one day, hopefully, I'll get a degree in marine biology and then specialise in marine education. That way I get to do everything that I love.

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