Adapting like an octopus: ocean education and awareness


Russell Stevens
Russell Stevens is the Head of Education at the Two Oceans Aquarium Education Foundation, and held that title at the Two Oceans Aquarium since the year 2000. Russell has many dreams around education, one of which was realised recently by successfully launching Marine Sciences as a national FET subject in South Africa.

Most aquariums justify the housing of captive animals by the display of marine organism for education purposes. The Two Oceans Aquarium has gained a worldwide reputation for offering meaningful and exceptional education programmes.

Aquarium Foundation teachers have developed exciting activities, courses, a curriculum and programmes that support Aquarium displays and ocean ecosystems beyond the limits of the coastline. The Aquarium is exceptionally fortunate. They display marine animals and plants that represent the largest ecosystem on the planet: the ocean! The ocean is also the least known of Earth’s ecosystems. We at the Aquarium Foundation have the privilege of educating about the ecosystems on display. Our team has challenged itself to find a niche within the South African and international education space to express our passion for ocean-based education and to do that effectively. There are thousands of theories on ‘how to educate’. After all, every parent has an idea about what ideal education is! As ambassadors of the sea, our challenge is to discover the combination of compelling content and engaging teaching methods to educate about the ocean. Our carefully designed wet laboratories and township outreach programmes facilitate the optimising of visiting student engagement with the Aquarium teachers, and the plants and animals themselves.

For the children in the Kindergarten or Early Childhood Development phase, a suite of puppet show experiences with accompanying books, written by education staff, have inspired and delighted thousands of children. We also offer presentations about various topics to school children and adults, to create awareness and understanding around the ocean and its inhabitants. Optimal experiential, inquirybased learning dominates our approach to teaching, the design of our courses and the engagement with students.   



COVID-19 has temporarily closed the Two Oceans Aquarium. Our Education Foundation teaching team followed the lead of marine organisms such as the octopus: it adapted its body shape and blended into the environment for its future needs.  Online courses have been our new focus. Not wanting to be a new normal, but within Covid-19a unit of transformed excellence our creative education team have reimagined previous courses and are offering courses to students from around the world on marine education topics ranging from early childhood fun activitiesOceanographyMarine BiobasicsFish and Rocky Shore ecosystems.   

Regardless of the Covid-19 lockdown, the education team of the Two Oceans Aquarium Education Foundation continues to develop innovative programmes that inform and inspire South Africans of all ages.