#01 2023

Towards conservation and education practices to ensure the sustainability of the oceans for the next generation

By Caitlin Ransom, Sikelelwa Mtyenene, Nozi Hambaze and Thomas Mtontsi

The NRF-SAEON Science Engagement team started their year off at the annual Marine and Coastal Educators Network (MCEN) Conference held in Gqeberha in the Eastern Cape from 8 to 13 January. The conference provided exciting opportunities for marine education practitioners across South Africa to share knowledge and ideas, and to encourage collaborations. 

Combining talks, workshops and field trips, MCEN is a unique conference as attendees get ample opportunity to engage scientists on the latest scientific developments and learn about best practices among their peers. The field trips provide an opportunity to network, get to know each other and share ideas.

NRF-SAEON was instrumental in organising this year’s conference. Nozi Hambaze, science engagement officer at the Elwandle Coastal Node, who is also the Eastern Cape MCEN Regional Chair, had the responsibility of coordinating the conference with the regional local organising committee, which included the Sustainable Seas Trust (SST). The national steering committee supported the local organising committee where needed.

On 8 January the delegates arrived at the Willows Resort and Conference Centre. Situated next to the ocean, the venue was very appropriate for a marine and coastal educators conference. SAEON’s Thomas Mtontsi, the National Chairperson of the MCEN, welcomed the delegates and encouraged participation and engagement as part of making the most of the conference.

Monday 9 January 

Professor Tommy Bornman, manager of the Elwandle Coastal Node, officially opened the conference. He highlighted ways to engage the public in addressing issues such as climate change and global warming, while treading carefully with matters relating to legislation, municipality by-laws and political structures, and being as compliant as possible. To accomplish this, it is vital to understand audiences and know what information to share and the timing to do so.

This message was echoed in a talk on the balance between ocean conservation and politics. Gary Koekemoer from the Wildlife and Environment Society of South Africa (WESSA) got everyone thinking and debating whether they would consider themselves to be environmental/marine activists. Professor Lorien Pichegru from Nelson Mandela University, another keynote speaker, spoke about her journey into science and politics in trying to protect the endangered African Penguins. She spoke about the challenges of dealing with different stakeholders and politics in trying to conserve penguins here in South Africa.

Dr Judy Mann of the Two Oceans Aquarium Education Foundation presented on the importance of marine protected areas (MPAs) and the recent campaign for a national MPA day which will be celebrated annually on 1 August. Judy, a well-known pioneer of MCEN and one of the persons to chair the network, highlighted the importance of integrated communication strategies during her presentation.

The talks that followed focused on school environmental clubs and other programmes used in environmental education and connecting learners to nature. There was a lively exchange of ideas around topics such as upcycling, and discussions around the need for collaborations between the different programmes.

To end off the day’s programme in the venue, conference participants were treated to a sketch where a conversation was held with different marine organisms one might meet along the beach. It was an engaging way to learn more about each creature in a fun and entertaining way.

John Kieser, an environmental manager who was essential in the establishment of MCEN and is fanatical about plastic pollution, coordinated a site visit to a company that creates plastic panels and parts for cars in Kariega. This demonstrated better use of plastic and how recycling plastic can create economic benefits.

Tuesday 10 January 

It was of great value to have scientists share their research from SAEON’s Elwandle Node, the South African Institute for Aquatic Biodiversity (SAIAB) and Nelson Mandela University (NMU), to mention but a few. Phumlile Cotiyane-Pondo, an early career scientist from SAEON, spoke about the importance of basic science and how he uses microscopes to identify phytoplankton.

Dr Phakama Nodo from SAIAB gave an overview of the fish assemblages in Algoa Bay. Dr Gletwyn Rubidge from NMU shared his interesting observations from free diving in Algoa Bay. SAEON technicians Tarryn Swartbooi and Imtiaz Malick showcased lab-based scientific processes during a tour through the facilities at NMU and boat cruises around the harbour as part of demonstrating how observations are made.

The conference also addressed various other topics that included the new Marine Science Curriculum, the Miniboats project, informal education impact, classification of organisms and Blue Schools. Throughout the week, several field trips were part of the programme, including a visit to the Southern African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds (SANCCOB) and looking at seabird rehabilitation, gaining an understanding of the wave break zone through surfing and canoeing, the science of the sand dunes and the Addo Elephant National Park.

Delegates attending the 23rd MCEN conference held in Ggeberha in the Eastern Cape

Professor Tommy Bornman, manager of the Elwandle Coastal Node, delivering the opening address

Dr Judy Mann of the Two Oceans Aquarium Education Foundation presenting on the importance of marine protected areas (MPAs) and the recent campaign for a national MPA day which will be celebrated annually on 1 August

A stromatolite session formed part of the field trips for MCEN delegates

SAEON’s Caitlin Ransom presenting on the concept of Blue Schools in South Africa