South Africa's COVID-19 lockdown is undoubtedly affecting the lives of millions of people - but what is happening to the animals at the Two Oceans Aquarium?

Credit: Claire Taylor/Two Oceans Aquarium

In accordance with Minister Ebrahim Patel's guidelines, we have activated our emergency protocols and a skeleton crew of staff that are essential for the maintenance of the Aquarium's life-support systems and for the ongoing provision of food and veterinary care to the animals in our care remains on duty. This means that our animals are still receiving the best care possible until the lockdown ends; for them, nothing has changed. In the meantime, our floor guides, marketing team, admin staff, functions organisers, puppeteers, researchers, drivers, and many other non-critical (but still very important to us) team members are staying at home as part of the nationwide lockdown - just like many of you.

Let's take a look at what our team is getting up to during the lockdown:

In the lab...

Our water quality, micro-organism and jelly labs are all essential for maintaining a steady food supply for many of our planktivorous animals - especially in light of the fact that we cannot leave the Aquarium to collect this food. We even got some science done, with resident jellyfish expert Krish Lewis hard at work on rearing root-mouth jellies (Euphilema inexpectata), from eggs retrieved from washed-up jellies - the first time this little known endemic species has ever been successfully grown in captivity!

"Jellyguy" Krish Lewis is very excited about his new strobilae. Credit: Ayrton King/Two Oceans Aquarium

With the penguins...

Penguins have become the beacon of joy amid the global coronavirus crisis, but as much as they lighten our hearts, they also need attention and care from their passionate keepers. Luckily, they have enthusiastic carers who are seeing to all their food, veterinary and enrichment needs during these coming weeks.

Feeding the sharks...

The sharks, fish and other sea life in our care need to have strict dietary requirements met on a daily basis. Up to this task are our animal nutritionist, aquarists and divers who are ready to get hands-on and ensure all the Aquarium's mouths are fed.

For aquarist Leigh, "getting hands-on" becomes quite literal when it comes to feeding the sharks in her care.

Sea turtle rehabilitation...

This rescued loggerhead turtle hatchling is being prepared for an X-ray to check for internal injuries while it recovers in our rehabilitation clinic. Credit: Claire Taylor/Two Oceans Aquarium

Behind the scenes of the exhibits you have come to know and love, the Two Oceans Aquarium together with our non-profit partner the Two Oceans Aquarium Education Foundation, actively rescues, rehabilitates and releases stranded and distressed sea turtles as part of our broader conservation mission. With the support of an extensive network of organisations and volunteers along the Western Cape's coast, and many incredible donors, hundreds of sea turtles have been saved, reared to full strength and released back into the wild.

Some of the partners - such as SANParks, CapeNature, law enforcement and several coastal municipalities - who help us as part of the Turtle Rescue Network can, fortunately, still patrol hotspot beaches known for stranded turtle hatchlings. With the City of Cape Town, Kynsa, Overberg and West Coast municipalities as official supporters, stranded turtles are still able to reach the Two Oceans Aquarium and Bayworld Aquarium during the lockdown. We currently have 19 endangered sea turtle hatchlings receiving ongoing treatment and dedicated medical care at the Two Oceans Aquarium. Conservation Coordinator Talitha Noble and her team are still in operation, ensuring that these little ones receive the care they need.

Please consider supporting this turtle-saving work through the registered non-profit public benefit organisation the Two Oceans Aquarium Education Foundaiton. Click here to donate.

Maintaining ecosystems...

Scuba diver Xolela Batayi checks the condition of the Kelp Forest Exhibit and finds ideal attachment points for fresh kelp to grow. Credit: Claire Taylor/Two Oceans Aquarium

Many of the Aquarium's exhibits contain large populations of sea plants and algae, such as kelp, sea lettuce, and caulerpa. No exhibit demonstrates this better than our Kelp Forest Exhibit, which usually holds a constant population of living sea bamboo. Because we cannot collect fresh seaweeds, either by boat or on our shore during the lockdown, and because keeping the seaweed we do have healthy with a skeleton staff is a large workload, we've temporarily removed it from all our exhibits.

The Knysna seahorses don't have strap caulerpa at the moment, but are happy with their new piece of mesh to cling onto in the meantime. Credit: Shanet Rutgers

Management...

With the Aquarium's financial, marketing and administration teams at home during the lockdown, all on-site decision making and quality assurance has been left to a patrol of diligent rockhopper penguins. That's why they are in business attire.

Acting-CEO Hopper, together with health and safety inspectors Clax and Chippy give the Kelp Forest Exhibit their official approval. Credit: Ayrton King/Two Oceans Aquarium

Life support...

Within the Aquarium building lies a labyrinth of pipes, pumps, filters, chillers, and heaters that keep the critical life support infrastructure for all the animals in our care running, providing each exhibit with just the right conditions for their inhabitants to thrive. This life support system is bespoke - and quite confusing to anyone not familiar with it! While non-essential maintenance staff are under lockdown, key technicians and aquarists in our Curatorial and Workshop teams remain on-site to operate these systems and intervene if something goes wrong.

Paul, Claire, Xolela and Leigh of the Curatorial department remove kelp from an exhibit. Supplied by: Claire Taylor/Two Oceans Aquarium

Education...

The Two Oceans Aquarium Education Foundation's team of environmental educators are not critical for the wellbeing of our animals, but that doesn't mean that their work isn't crucial. Working from home, this team of teachers has taken their normally face-to-face youth courses online, using Zoom and Google Classroom to work directly with school children who also find themselves locked-down at home.

Using online tools, teacher Anzio Abels is still able to reach the learners taking part in the Marine Science Explorer course for daily lessons.

There are many other members of our team, all working tirelessly to keep the animals in our care safe, well-fed and happy. Together, South Africa can overcome the current crisis - so stay home, stay safe and let's beat this virus!

When it comes to hygiene, we all need to do our part. Aquarists Millie Tyali and Kaye Williams get the behind-the-scenes areas of the Aquarium clean and sterile to hand over to the next shift. Credit: Tersia Greenstone.

The legalities - if you're curious

Assistant Curator Paul Nimwegen hops right in to care for our exhibits' ecosystems. Credit: Claire Taylor/Two Oceans Aquarium

In line with the guidelines released by the South African government, certain posts at the Two Oceans Aquarium fall within the "Essential Services" sector detailed by the Minister of Trade, Industry, and Competition Ebrahim Patel. Specifically, these are posts that provide "essential animal welfare and emergency veterinary services" and "key maintenance systems required at workplaces to avoid serious damage to economic assets, where interruption of that service will destroy critical working areas, factories or machinery." Although the Aquarium will continue to be closed to the public, we have applied for and been granted the correct work permits for staff that are critical to the care of our animals, and the maintenance of essential life-support systems.

As a member of PAAZA (Pan-African Association of Zoos and Aquaria), we have long been required to have a detailed set of emergency procedures in place that will allow us to maintain a sufficient standard of care with the smallest staff contingent possible. We have now put those plans in place, and have split our veterinary, husbandry and technical staff into several smaller "skeleton crews" that will allow us to continue operating should a staff member become ill and one or more of the work teams be required to stay in isolation. The safety and wellbeing of our staff is of paramount importance, and we are confident that the biosecurity measures that have been taken on our premises will provide the best possible safety during these circumstances.

Credit: Ayrton King/Two Oceans Aquarium

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