Helen Lockhart is the Two Oceans Aquarium Communications & Sustainability Manager.

There is never a dull moment at the Two Oceans Aquarium, which is why it is such a dynamic and exciting place to visit – and to work. 2016 has yet again been a very full and busy year, with many amazing highlights.

21 fin-tastic years young

This year we came of age and celebrated our 21st year – in a series of blogs we recalled wonderful memories and highlights of our achievements during these years:

Our new exhibits opened

In June we had the pleasure of opening our brand new I&J Ocean Exhibit after a two-year construction period. It was thrilling to witness the first fish being introduced to the exhibit and to see them settling into their new home.

The I&J Ocean Exhibit holds 1.6 million litres of seawater, is 6m deep, and is the first of its kind in South Africa to boast a full 10m-long tunnel.

Photo courtesy @mattgorlei

“The spectacular Jelly Gallery with its special effects of mirrors and lighting is, in my opinion, one of the best exhibits we have ever had.”

Jelly heaven

Visitors and staff alike were all blown away by the Jelly Gallery that also opened in June.

This spectacular gallery with its special effects of mirrors and lighting is, in my opinion, one of the best exhibits we have ever had.

Photo courtesy @skuzzy_sci

It is moody, mesmerising and astoundingly beautiful.

Back to the big blue

And then we said goodbye to our large ragged-tooth sharks so that we could start the much-needed repairs on the predator exhibit. Releasing animals of this size always requires much planning and care and our collections team (who are also our release team for the most part) did a superb job of removing the sharks from the exhibit, transporting them by road to the release site, and then putting them back in the ocean. It is always a bittersweet moment to see animals return to the ocean as we hope they will be safe and live long and happy lives back in the wild.

One of our Facebook fans spotted the sharks in transit through Somerset West! Photo courtesy Shelley Gardella‎/Facebook 

And speaking of animals returning to the wild, we have followed the incredible journeys of the two turtles Otto and Winston as they swum vast distances from Cape Point to Madagascar and the coast of northern Africa respectively. It has been such a privilege witnessing their travels, knowing that we saved these animals’ lives.

Photo by Jacques Marais

A dramatic sunfish rescue became one of our most viewed clips on YouTube – this poor animal was trapped in the Robinson Dry Dock and the water was emptying out fast. Aquarium staff and volunteers and even some bystanders sprung into action and managed to get the very large fish (estimated at about 150kg) out in the nick of time.

Champions of environmental education

Our education team has once again excelled and we have taught more than 60 000 school children at our dedicated Environmental Education Centre this year. If we add the number of learners engaged by our three outreach programmes (Oceans in Motion, Smart Living, and Puppet Stories) we will have reached over 100 000 learners by the end of March.

In addition to the classroom lessons we offer during the school term, we use the holidays to offer courses that are all about quality rather than quantity. These courses are the education team’s pride and joy and the Young Biologist (YB) course, for grade 10s, is the flagship offering. We have run two YB courses this year (sponsored by I&J and De Beers Marine) as well as two Junior Biologist courses, a Seafans course, two Smart Living courses for grade 7s, an Oceanography and a Zoology course and a Matric Revision course.

Our partners in conservation

We have partnered with some great initiatives this year including the launch of WWF’s Ocean Facts and Futures report, the development and launch of the Shark Spotters app (I am really enjoying having the shark sightings literally at my finger tips!), and there is our evolving partnership with the Mdzananda Animal Clinic in Khayelitsha.

Trevor Manuel was the keynote speaker at the launch of the WWF's Oceans Facts and Futures report

Flying the flag

Some of our team members have attended and presented at prestigious conferences around the world – Bianca Engel travelled to Orlando, Florida to attend the National Marine Educators Association (NMEA) conference; Nicholas Nicolle presented at the 45th Annual Conference of the Parasitological Society of Southern Africa (PARSA 2016), Hayley McLellan presented the Rethink the Bag campaign at the Sustainable Brands conference, and Maryke Musson, Michael Farquhar and Tinus Beukes attended the 9th International Aquarium Congress in Vancouver, Canada in September.

Two Oceans Aquarium Deputy Head of Education Bianca Engel (third from the left) was part of an international panel discussing ocean literacy at the National Marine Educators Association’s 2016 Annual Conference

“An enviable involvement on the world stage by the Two Oceans Aquarium.”

The Congress, which only happens every four years, attracted 500 delegates from aquaria all over the world. This is a great opportunity to network, meet old friends, and showcase the Two Oceans Aquarium through presentations. Tinus spoke of the advantages of staff diversity in a curatorial team, Maryke presented our turtle rehabilitation efforts, and Michael discussed collaborative animal management programmes in Africa. Maryke chaired a session and Michael is on the IAC's Steering Committee, as both a past host and as the African representative – an enviable involvement on the world stage by the Two Oceans Aquarium.

Solidifying friendships with awesome, passionate people

This year we teamed up with ambassadors Chris Bertish and Justin Coetzee.

Chris and Two Oceans Aquarium Aquarist Pinda Dlodlo. Photo by Jacques Marais

These men are passionate about the oceans and dedicated to educating and inspiring others – even if it is by means of crazy adventures such as swimming in icy seas or crossing the ocean from Morocco to Florida on a standup paddle board (SUP).

Justin Coetzee swam with our sharks before they were released this year. Photo by Stéphane Gautronneau

Going solar!

Our sustainability efforts were given a boost when, thanks to the V&A Waterfront, we were able to add 500 solar panels to our rooftop.

Our aim is to keep improving wherever we can and to continually look for ways to become more resource-efficient and less wasteful – and to encourage and inspire others to do the same.

The battle against ocean plastics

We've grabbed every opportunity to extend ocean-plastic awareness with both hands. Through initiatives such as the 6th annual Penguin Promises Waddle for a Week from Gansbaai to Simonstown and Plastic Free July, we discovered the trials and tribulations of trying to live plastic-free in a plastic-filled world.

From 11 April 2016, for six days, 16 penguin lovers from all over South Africa (plus one from the UK) walked 125km from Gansbaai to Boulders Beach in Simonstown.

DF Malherbe High School in Port Elizabeth became the first high school in South African to ban the single-use plastic bag – which school will be next?

SPAR Western Cape steps in for seals

Speaking of plastic, SPAR came on board as the sponsor for our Seal Rescue Programme and launched their “It's our plastic, it's our problem” campaign.

You can check out the Seal Platform outside Vista Marina

Throughout the course of the year SPAR has supported our efforts to Rethink the Bag and to encourage the use of reusable bags instead of plastic bags through various in-store promotions.

Our new captain

Michael Farquhar takes members on a behind-the-scenes tour in 2015. Photo by Ray D Chaplin

We also experienced the first year of new leadership under the capable direction of our CEO Michael Farquhar, who recently commented: “While it is hard to believe that I have been in the position of CEO for almost a year now, I am delighted with the Aquarium’s achievements and it is an honour to lead this remarkable organisation.”

All of this means nothing without you

So much has happened this year and we have so much to be grateful for. Thank you to all the people who have visited us this year – both the first timers and those who come regularly such as our very valued members. Without your support we would not be able to do what we do – from opening new exhibits, to rehabilitating and releasing animals, to educating thousands of children and inspiring young and old alike.

Photo courtesy @katynicol

While 2016 has been an impressive year in our books, 2017 is set to be spectacular – our new dedicated shark exhibit will be opening and we will continue to strive to offer you a world-class experience which includes magnificent exhibits, friendly and welcoming staff, and outstanding ocean interactions at the Two Oceans Aquarium.

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