Starting on World Wetlands Day, Two Oceans Aquarium Environmental Education Centre teachers Wandiswa Jonga and Thabo Sabeko set out with an ambitious goal - an outreach programme to put school children in touch with the wetlands that form the hearts of their communities. 

With a day of fun and learning ahead, Thabo briefs the learners on what to expect from the Wetlands Programme. Photo by Devon Bowen/Two Oceans Aquarium.

The Wetlands Programme visited five schools in Khayelitsha over a span of five days, reaching grade 6s from Kuyasa Primary, Noxolo Xauke Primary, Masiphumelele Primary, Chuma Primary, and Sivuyiseni Primary. We were able to take more than 300 children on this journey of discovery.

The living heart of a community

From their schools, the children were taken to experience a real wetland, one that was at the heart of their community, but which they may rarely have considered a vital part of nature: Khayelitsha Wetlands Park.

I'm not wildlife! Look over there! Photo by Devon Bowen/Two Oceans Aquarium.

At Khayelitsha Wetlands Park, children were equipped with binoculars and a checklist of wetland macro-organisms that they could expect to see. At this "large scale", they could link the ecosystems they were starting to explore, as part of their school curriculum, to their community and day-to-day lives.

There is so much to see at the Khayelitsha Wetlands Park, but you need to look carefully. Photo by Devon Bowen/Two Oceans Aquarium.

Using the provided checklist and guidebook, they learned to identify a variety of birds and plants living in the wetland. There was more biodiversity here than they might have expected at first glance!

Check, check... and check! ID'ing birds is not easy, but it is fulfilling. Photo by Devon Bowen/Two Oceans Aquarium.

Mdzananda Animal Clinic volunteer Ronnie also had a message to share about the rights of animals, specifically the "Five Freedoms" that govern human interaction with wild, domesticated, and tame animals. These are:

  • Freedom from hunger and thirst
  • Freedom from discomfort
  • Freedom from pain, injury and disease
  • Freedom to express normal behaviour
  • Freedom from fear and distress
Ronnie talks about the work Mdzananda Animal Clinic does, and how the children can care for animals too. Photo by Thabo Sabeko/Two Oceans Aquarium.

After this exciting time outdoors, learning about wetlands and the roles they play in our environment, it was time to move on to the next stop.

A living laboratory

Time to get even closer to the action! The group journeyed to the Liesbeeck River in Observatory. Here we met Jeremy Shelton and Jody Reizenberg from Living Labs who would be leading the next part of the wetland adventure.

Stepping into the Liesbeeck River, Jody from Living Labs shows the learners the proper technique to collect their samples. Photo by Devon Bowen/Two Oceans Aquarium.

Even in the heart of the city, Jeremy explained, bugs and animals living in a wetland are trying to tell us how healthy their ecosystem is. If the kids could help him find some of these critters, he would show them how to understand what they are saying.

Living Labs' Jeremy looks through a collected sample - nice job kids! Photo by Devon Bowen/Two Oceans Aquarium.

The children were taught how to collect samples which could be taken back to the Aquarium for closer inspection.

A "bug's-eye" view

Back in the classroom, the kids were divided into smaller groups and instructed to look through their Liesbeeck River water samples for moving organisms - putting these into smaller containers.

Bringing the samples back to the Aquarium allows an even closer look - and many unexpected surprises are found. Photo by Devon Bowen/Two Oceans Aquarium.

Once these tiny animals were isolated, it was time to get a closer look using our Environmental Education Centre's microscopes.

How many animals are in this dish? We can spot at least seven. Photo by Devon Bowen/Two Oceans Aquarium.

Up close and personal! The fascination of these young minds was captured as the diversity and complexity of critters, usually so small as to escape notice. Who knew that even the tiniest pool of water held such biodiversity?

The use of microscopes opens up a whole new world - who knew that a 4mm long worm was so intricate? Photo by Devon Bowen/Two Oceans Aquarium.

Jeremy explained to the children that the diversity of animals we found are a good indicator that the river is "healthy", but that many wetland ecosystems are threatened by pollution and lose these animals. From the humblest leach to the biggest damselfly, each of these critters has a role to play.

Education in action

Applying what they learned of the 5 Freedoms from Mdzananda Animal Clinic, Wandiswa talks about the threats facing life in other ecosystems - such as marine turtles. Photo by Devon Bowen/Two Oceans Aquarium.

After their educational programme, the children were given a tour of the Aquarium - a chance to see the complexities and intricacies of ocean, and some freshwater, ecosystems on a larger scale.

Photo by Devon Bowen/Two Oceans Aquarium.

This incredible opportunity could not have been possible without the contributions to our Environmental Education Programme from your tickets and donations. We would also like to thank Mdzananda Animal Clinic - who do incredible work for stray and distressed animals in Khayelitsha and surrounding communities. Thanks too to the team from Living Labs, whose insight and enthusiasm for all things "wetland" has certainly helped inspire another generation of environmentally aware South Africans.

You can help make experiences like this possible for more learners by supporting our education programme, or by showing your support to Mdzananda and Living Labs.

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