On 10 April 2019 the Two Oceans Aquarium was announced as the winner of the Gold award in the “Best Responsible Attraction” category of the 2019 African Responsible Tourism Awards at WTM at the Cape Town International Convention Centre. Much to the delight of everyone at the Aquarium, the world-class facility also collected a Silver award in the "Best for Global Goals Reporting" category.
“We are absolutely thrilled to receive this award and acknowledgement by our peers in the tourism industry. Tonight we certainly rubbed shoulders with the best of the best – our fellow finalists are also doing incredible work and we salute them for their contributions,” said Helen Lockhart, Communications & Sustainability Manager for the Two Oceans Aquarium. “This award has been achieved by the passionate and dedicated efforts of our staff and volunteers, all working towards the same purpose – saving our oceans. However, we recognise that we cannot achieve our vision of abundant and healthy oceans if we ourselves as a public aquarium do not act responsibly in terms of our impact on the environment and on communities, both human and non-human. This award inspires us to continue striving for the highest standards possible in every aspect of our organisation.”
The Two Oceans Aquarium has been a certified Diamond member of the Heritage Environmental Rating Programme for three years. It works towards continually improve on the sustainability of its operations and is currently working towards ISO14001 compliance, with the aim to have this certification in place within the next two years.
The Aquarium has set targets to reduce its water and energy consumption, and its waste production, and analyses its carbon footprint on an annual basis.
Although the Aquarium is an extremely energy-intensive operation, given that the animal life support systems have to run 24/7, 365 days of the year, it constantly looks for ways to reduce its dependence on fossil fuels. Thanks to several key partnerships it has been able to install solar panels to reduce reliance on Eskom – it currently has a total of 500 solar panels covering 850m2 of roof space.
A waste management system has been in place for several years and the Aquarium reduced its overall visitor/office waste by 26% between 2017 and 2018. Twenty four tonnes of waste was diverted from landfill and 52% of waste was recycled in 2018.
In response to the water crisis in the early part of 2018, the Aquarium undertook various initiatives including switching off all the taps in its public and staff bathrooms and providing hand sanitiser; disconnecting public toilets from municipal freshwater and switching over to a supply of sea water (resulting in a 50% saving in freshwater consumption between the calendar years 2017 and 2018), and running a successful social media campaign to encourage Capetonians to #SaveLikeAPenguin.
The Aquarium’s exhibits not only showcase the beauty and wonder of the marine life which occurs off the southern African coastline, but they also raise awareness of the need to protect and conserve our ocean heritage. The core essence of the Aquarium’s brand is sustainability through environmental education and conservation. Conservation and sustainability-oriented messaging is communicated through exhibit signage, daily talks at animal feeds, on the Aquarium’s website, blog and social media platforms, and through themed speaker evenings which are hosted throughout the year. In this way the Aquarium aims to inspire and empower people to see the connections between their actions and the health of the oceans.
According to Morné du Plessis, Chief Executive Officer: WWF-SA, “The Aquarium and its educational programmes and signage have played a pivotal role in creating awareness amongst learners and visitors about sustainable consumption of seafood. They have also been pivotal in guiding the public on how to make the correct seafood choice, and how exercising that choice has far-reaching consequences for our oceans”.
In order to further inspire and empower people the Two Oceans Aquarium Education Foundation was established in 2018. The aim of the Foundation is to promote and expand on the already excellent educational, conservation and research initiatives in the form of a registered Public Benefit Organisation in terms of Section 18A of the Income Tax Act, 1962.
The Two Oceans Aquarium has a well-established and internationally recognised environmental education centre. Approximately 75 000 school children from around the Cape Peninsula receive formal and dedicated marine science lessons every year. Three outreach programmes reach more than 35 000 children, mainly from disadvantaged areas, annually. Free courses for learners from Grade 6 through to Grade 12 are offered through the Aquarium’s Marine Sciences Academy.
In response to the launch of Operation Phakisa in 2014 and based on the above programmes, a national Marine Sciences Curriculum has been written by the Aquarium’s education staff and presented to the National Department of Education for approval. It is envisaged that the Curriculum will contribute to the Vocational and Occupational training of students wishing to pursue marine-related careers.
“The Aquarium really is an incredible asset to Cape Town and South Africa as a whole, ensuring that their message of conservation is accessible to all. Their outreach activities in disadvantaged communities are astounding, ensuring everyone can become a conscious, responsible custodian of the ocean regardless of their background and circumstance” said Sarah Waries, CEO for Shark Spotters.
The Aquarium seal team rescued 64 seals from entanglements in 2018. The staff logged 1 867 hours of patrolling (on foot on the jetties and by boat) to monitor the seals in the V&A Waterfront harbour and assist where and when possible.
In 2018, the Aquarium introduced its Trash Bash cleanup initiative. Four beach cleanups were held on Sunset Beach and scientific data was collected about the 12 most prevalent plastic litter items found in the ocean, how they are distributed and the rate at which the debris collects on the beach. This year the Aquarium will host six Trash Bash cleanups at locations including wetlands, beaches, townships and informal settlements.
The Two Oceans Aquarium continues to purposefully campaign against the use of single-use plastics which include plastic shopping bags, straws, bottled water, takeaway packing and cutlery. From being a fairly lone voice back in 2013, when the Aquarium first appointed its full-time environmental campaigner, it has been increasingly joined by individuals, organisations, corporates, and retailers in South Africa promoting and educating to reduce single-use plastic in this country.
The Aquarium has a well-established turtle rescue, rehabilitation and release programme and close to 450 turtles have been successfully released back into the ocean after rehabilitation. In 2018, the turtle team, including two full-time staff, volunteers and with additional support from the animal health team, spent 3 767 hours rehabilitating sea turtles of all sizes and 18 turtles were released in December 2018. The most famous turtle to be released is Yoshi, a loggerhead turtle who spent 20 years in the Aquarium. Through her release and subsequent satellite tracking of her journey in the ocean, she has proven to be an incredible ambassador, not only for her species, but also for the Aquarium’s turtle rescue, rehabilitation and release programme, highlighting the need for the conservation of sea turtles. At the end of 2017 the Aquarium opened a much-anticipated Turtle Exhibit which is an informative and interactive experience highlighting the turtle rehabilitation and release work as well as the threat of plastic pollution to turtles.