Despite the worst drought in over 100 years, the reality that one day soon you could open the tap and have nothing come out has not yet sunk in for much of the Western Cape.

Time to get extreme

Enter WWF South Africa's bold campaign #WatershedWednesday, a challenge to all South Africans to make an extreme water-saving effort. The WWF has called on businesses to take part in this day of discomfort by sticking to extreme company-wide rationing and clever ways of saving water. We the Two Oceans Aquarium are fully on board.

Here's what we're doing as a company for WatershedWednesday:

  • We have challenged all staff to bring only 2 litres of water to work. This is their ration of drinking water for the day. Each department will hold their team members accountable and report back to us after the day to see how it went! 
  • We have challenged staff to come to work on Wednesday the 29th in the same clothes they were wearing on Tuesday the 28th! And if they are brave enough – the same clothes on Thursday the 30th too... 
  • We are running a competition with staff for the best water-saving idea. The winning idea will win an EcoTank rainwater tank. 
  • No towels will be washed on Wednesday the 29th! We're going to use (biodegradable) paper towel at the Touch Pool.

Follow us on Twitter @2OceansAquarium or follow the hashtag #WatershedWednesday to see how we're doing! 

Other companies that are taking part include Growthpoint Properties, Nedbank, Old Mutual, Virgin Active and Woolworths as well as Charly's Bakery, GreenCape, NCC Environmental Services, SnS Facilities Management, Studio H, UCook and V&A Waterfront ... Will you join the cause?

“Although Capetonians have reduced their water usage, it’s not enough. And there’s still a sense of denial or disbelief that our taps might run dry. We all need to know and feel that it is very possible and even probable. We need to change our minds, and our behaviour. For that to happen, we need to experience the crisis in a very real, physical and personal way. We need a watershed moment.” – WWF

What is the Two Oceans Aquarium doing to reduce water consumption?

The Two Oceans Aquarium has been concerned about water for a long time. We actively share water-saving tips and drought news on our blog, educate our visitors wherever we can on-site, run water-conservation lessons through our educational work, and are doing everything we can to reduce our water consumption in-house. Here are a few things we're already doing to help save water:

Monitoring our use

Five "smart meters" were developed and donated to the Aquarium by the University of Stellenbosch. With these, we can monitor areas of high consumption, with our main area of concern being the public restrooms. Many of our changes have been made to reduce water wastage in these restrooms, and to use them as a platform to create awareness.

These smart meters monitor water flow by the minute, thanks to the University of Stellenbosch they are being rolled out to schools across the Cape.

The University of Stellenbosch has designed an online Dropula dashboard for us, which allows our water consumption data to be viewed in real-time - we plan on displaying this information publicly in our foyer.

An example from our live water dashboard. Click the link to see up-to-date stats.

AtlasBoard - Aquarium 1

EcoTank rainwater collection

Every drop of water is precious. Local rainwater tank manufacturer, EcoTanks, recently donated nine rainwater collection tanks to the Aquarium to help us reduce our water consumption even more.

Although Cape Town’s rain has been scarce, businesses blessed with large buildings (like us) have enough roof space to collect substantial amounts of water, even from short cloudbursts. The water we collect is used to water the plants in our sustainable vegetable garden, which is used to feed the sea turtles in our rehab-and-release centre.

These yummy veggies, grown for our turtles, is watered using HVAC condensation, greywater and rainwater.

As we continue to integrate these rainwater tanks with the Aquarium’s plumbing, and find new opportunities to reduce our tap-water consumption, we hope to decrease our usage even further.

Water-saving restrooms

All taps in the Aquarium have been replaced or retrofitted with aerators that reduce the amount of water that flows to just 0.6 litres a minute - down from a full 6 litres a minute for the average tap. Traditional screw taps have all been replaced with push-taps that are equipped with stoppers that keep them open for under three seconds - encouraging short hand washes. We've also replaced all our toilets with modern designs that are able to flush effectively with a vastly reduced amount of water.

A simple device, this aerator reduces this taps water wastage by 90%.

Educating a sustainable generation

The Aquarium has long been a world-leading environmental education facility. Part of this is the Smart Living programme, run in partnership with the City of Cape Town. The Smart Living Challenge Zone has several interactive games, including a touch screen that gamifies lessons in water savings for children visiting the Aquarium.

The Smart Living outreach programme takes lessons in water, biodiversity, energy and waste conservation to tens of thousands of school children each year - free of charge. We have high hopes that these lessons that link our home lives to the environment have fostered a sustainable generation that will think twice before letting a tap drip.

Water-friendly scuba diving

Our dive centre has also been able to reduce its water consumption. Rainwater is used to rinse wetsuits and diving equipment used by our rooftop scuba school – this is important as salt damages the equipment.

The dive-training swimming pool on our roof has been converted from a freshwater pool to a seawater one.

The rooftop dive training pool is filled directly from the sea.

Divers are encouraged to shower for less than two minutes, and shower rooms are kitted out with the same water-saving technology as our public restrooms. Plans are currently underway to upgrade all of our showers to the NASA-inspired water recycling showers from Orbital Systems.

Two minutes is all you need to get clean!

Creating awareness

As a tourist attraction we believe we have the duty to inform visitors to the Cape about the ongoing water crisis. We have found that the most effective places to put information about the drought is at the points of water use – what better time to think about your consumption than when you are actually washing your hands?

Toilets, showers, taps, kitchen sinks – every water point that might be used by a visitor to or contractor of the Aquarium will see a precaution to reduce their water usage.

What about the animals?

Even though we fill our exhibits with filtered seawater directly from the ocean, freshwater is involved in the process of cleaning out the pipes. Using our monitoring system we have been able to fix leaks and reduce the amount of freshwater needed.

In a complicated system like this, finding ways to reduce waste is an ongoing challenge.

The one exception, which the astute Aquarium visitor might be wondering about, is the freshwater exhibit. Through careful review of our cleaning procedures we have been able to halve the amount of freshwater needed to maintain this exhibit, and all waste water created is being used to water plants at the Aquarium.

We display endangered freshwater fish in our river ecosystem display. Almost all waste water is used to water the plants.

A culture of responsibility

While as a business we have the opportunity to institute ”large-scale” change, it has been incredible to see staff taking initiative to find ways to reduce our water footprint even further – small changes that may have slipped under the radar.

One of our aquarists has set up these barrels to collect condensation from an HVAC unit.

In the curatorial kitchen, where the food for our animals is prepared, animal keepers have stopped using fresh water to clean the utensils and food items. In other behind the scenes areas, rocks, floors, walls and the occasional penguin are washed using seawater. Freshwater is no longer used.

Staff in our catering department obviously need to be hygienic and use fresh water, but they too have implemented changes. All basins used for hand washing have been fitted with hi-tech aerators, rinsing of foods is now done in large batches with limited water and dishes are only washed in large batches.

Even though this kitchen is off-limits to the public, it doesn't mean the water-saving message goes unheard.

Our fleet of vehicles is no longer washed with tap water – even our two custom outreach vehicles and large trucks get washed using recycled water or waterless car shampoo.

So what's the point of all this effort?

Day Zero is looming over Cape Town - it is a situation that we cannot allow to happen to the city we call home. Unfortunately, it is a situation that many still believe is going to "just go away", or which won't happen again.

The reality is that the Western Cape is a water stressed area – this goes beyond the current drought. As Capetonians, we need to rethink our relationship with water and realise that it has never been an infinite resource. Water scarcity is the new normal.

Image courtesy of VOCFM.

By investing in water-saving technology, adopting thrifty habits and encouraging others to do the same, we are investing in the future. This is the watershed moment - let's avoid Day Zero?

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