Feedback from our Introduction to Marine Biology (Marine Biobasics) Course

Bianca Engel & Xavier Zylstra

Bianca and Xavier are teachers, facilitators and department leaders in our Education section, with a passion to teaching young people marine sciences, sustainability and about ocean systems.

The Two Oceans Aquarium Education Foundation runs several holiday enrichment courses for young natural historians with a particular interest in marine topics. As they progress through the courses and climb the grades, many of them express an interest in pursuing a marine related career. This generally starts off as wanting to be a “marine biologist”, but further research and guidance through our courses makes them aware of the huge variety of careers on offer.

Over the past two years, we have offered the Introduction to Marine Biology (Marine Biobasics) to Grade learners 11 to adults interested in expanding their knowledge and understanding of marine organisms. With the return of in-person courses at the Two Oceans Aquarium we trialed this course as a hybrid offering with Grade 11 students hosted at the aquarium and Grade 11 to young adults joining us online via Zoom.

We were able to offer sponsorship to 26 learners, thanks to sponsorship from the Two Oceans Aquarium and SPAR. An additional 20 paid spots were also made available.

A Zoom meeting was set up for those learners who were joining us online as well as teacher Xavier Zylstra, who was presenting from Infanta. Anzio Abels, our Smart Living outreach teacher, set up the classroom with webcams, microphones and USB microscope and signed in to Zoom to ensure that our online students were getting a similar experience to those attending the course at the Aquarium.

Anzio Abels using the webcam to show online students some of the seaweeds

An added bonus was that if students were unwell they were able to stay home and sign into the Zoom meeting and not miss out on any sessions. These sessions were also recorded and saved on the online platform, Thinkific to view again.

The first day of the course sets out to define life functions, to introduce the marine producers (phytoplankton and seaweeds), levels of complexity and body plans in animals and to establish an understanding of animal taxonomy. With these broad concepts in place, all the major animal phyla were introduced over the next four days, starting with protists and ending with mammals, paying special attention to marine examples.

Aspects covered for each phylum included: Definitive features, body plan and external features, nervous coordination and sense organs, temperature regulation, feeding, general locomotion, gaseous exchange, and reproduction. In each case the evolutionary process is highlighted to show progression and innovative adaptations in each new phylum.

The increase in complexity and move to life on land is dealt with as a theme, particularly in the vertebrate classes and it is also noted, especially for each of the land-living vertebrate classes, how some of them have evolved the ability to live in the oceans again from structures clearly meant for life on land.

The course is unashamedly academic in nature and involves lectures based around PowerPoint presentations and printed notes which require extra annotation. It is explained, at the onset, that this is in keeping with what will be expected at tertiary level and, in a sense, an introduction to that means of instruction as well. Where pertinent, video material is incorporated and live specimens are provided for the participants to be able to view and, if it is safe to do so, touch.

Chanelle presenting the group Agnatha

For each phylum, we tried to have live animals and dry exhibits on the tables for the candidates to view and compare. In order to find some extra examples to study, we performed kelp holdfast dissections on the first day. Kelp holdfasts house a range of invertebrates; these were carefully extracted by students, working in groups of five, and kept in tanks to view later in the week.

Students carefully dissecting kelp holdfasts to find invertebrates

A highlight was a demonstrated dissection of a large yellowtail and pyjama catshark, specially procured for the purpose. Being much larger than the pilchards, which everyone had dissected, it was far easier to see and point out finer details of fish anatomy. See recording link below.

We concluded the course by taking the students to see the Cape fur seals on the Seal Platform and on a behind-the-scenes tour to view our main exhibits and the turtle rehab centre.

A pre-test is also done, based on the content to be covered, so that the level of prior knowledge can be established. The candidates rewrote the test, at the end of the course, showing significant learning was took place. In previous courses, learners were given a daily assessment covering the previous day’s content. These contributed significantly to improving the overall result for the post test and will be incorporated back into future courses.

The logistics of setting up the classroom for each session and assisting with various activities would not be possible without the wonderful assistance of our volunteers, three of which are 3rd year marine science university students and who were graduates of our Marine Sciences Academy courses. It is always gratifying to have an active list of our past graduates who are keen to give freely of their time to a cause from which they clearly gained inspiration.

Feedback from the students was unanimous in praise for the enthusiastic presenters, the ability to work with and view live animals in the Aquarium and to the Aquarium and SPAR  for providing the sponsorship which made this experience possible.

“Yes, it (aim) was achieved and exceeded. The teachers were amazing in presenting with enthusiasm and making it fun for us to learn.”  – Extract from feedback form completed


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