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Conference a valuable source of lessons for learners

By Caitlin Ransom and Thomas Mtontsi, SAEON Science Engagement Programme
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South Africa’s Marine and Coastal Educators Network (MCEN) not only provides a platform to share ideas and network, but also to explore parts of our country rich in biodiversity, using this experience to highlight educational concepts for learners in a South African context.

Members of SAEON’s science engagement team attended the 2020 MCEN conference, which started off at the Soetwater Environmental Centre just outside of Kommetjie, a small town near Cape Town in the Western Cape province of South Africa.

The programme kicked off with an outline of Marine Science as a new school subject and an overview of the current status of the oceans around South Africa before Dr Maya Pfaff and Emeritus Professor George Branch of the University of Cape Town presented a summary of the key changes occurring in False Bay.

Dr Kerry Sink, marine programme manager at the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI), then took participants on a virtual tour of South Africa’s newest marine protected areas through a series of photographs that captured the interest of all attendees. In the process we learnt about wonderful organisations doing beach clean-up and encouraging kids to explore and have a better appreciation of the ocean through snorkelling.

We visited the Two Oceans Aquarium where we admired their inter-active classrooms with animals in tanks and touch pools on tables. We were given an opportunity to experience a “behind-the-scenes tour” that illustrated how the aquarium functions, which visitors do not normally experience.

After two days in Cape Town we headed up the coast to the West Coast National Park where we stayed at Geelbek, a birder’s paradise overlooking the stunning saltmarshes. Our visit to the South African Fisheries Museum, Bokkom Laan (a small bokkom industry in Velddrif) and talks on the World Wide Fund for Nature’s South African Sustainable Seafood Initiative programme, made us deeply aware of the importance of fishing for the livelihoods of many people, especially those along the West Coast.

Sharing ideas and resources


SAEON Science Engagement intern Caitlin Ransom presents an online marine invertebrate game at the MCEN conference

Participants were shown how creating a giant three in a row game to making a quiz more fun, creating underwater ecosystems as an arts-and-crafts project, to creating a story and giving children roles can turn a beach clean-up into a treasure hunt. They were also encouraged to use their own experiences to help people connect with the key messages of ocean science literacy.

The SAEON science engagement team trialled a new online game where the player needs to decide where along the rocky shore one would find different animals. This was a huge favourite with all MCEN participants.

The AccessLab concept, which aims to teach people what can be regarded as reliable sources of information and how they can access these, was presented by Tania Duba, a SAEON intern at the Egagasini Node. This novel concept for science communication was welcomed by all.

Next on the programme was a visit to Rondevlei Environmental Education Centre, where we spent the night on the Cape Town Environmental Education Trust’s island in permanent tents surrounded by hippos. We were treated to a gala dinner at the Zeekoevlei Yacht Club to celebrate 20 years of MCEN.

Some delegates were further treated to an ECO trip to Dyer Island in a quest to see the Marine Big Five in Gansbaai near the southernmost tip of Africa. The island is home to African penguins and seal colonies. The Marine Big Five exploration included watching shark cage diving as well as a visit to the bird sanctuary.


MCEN delegates watching shark diving at Gansbaai (Photo: Jenifer Mohale)

New SAEON training manual

The 2020 MCEN conference has inspired us to improve the marine sections in our new SAEON Biomes of South Africa Educators Training Manual. We will use the photos of our newly proclaimed marine protected areas as an inspiration to highlight that South Africa not only has a wealth of biodiversity on land, but also in our oceans.

We hope that you will use our new-found knowledge and skills during science camps, educator workshops and other science engagement platforms to help learners and the general public learn more about and appreciate just how magnificent our oceans are.

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