My expectation of 2020 was of course a year of perfect vision (20/20), a year of full marks (20/20), and a year of exciting new things as we decided to officially launch the Two Oceans Aquarium Education Foundation, the non-profit and public benefit organisation, founded by the Two Oceans Aquarium, to specifically grow our ocean impact activities around environmental education, conservation, research and awareness.
My expectation was to run at full throttle to inform and inspire to increase positive environmental and social impact.
As a marine scientist I was actually spectacularly unprepared to take on this mammoth task of establishing and launching a non-profit in a world where there are so many incredible causes after the same funds. Precisely two weeks after we transferred our staff across to the newly established Aquarium Foundation we locked our classrooms due to the pandemic. We were used to hosting more than 70 000 learners per year in these wonderful discovery centres and reaching a further 60 000 eager learners through our outreach activities (usually in under resourced areas). We were not quite sure what we were in for, but sometimes, being spectacularly unprepared (or maybe spectacularly optimistic) unlocks doors, and that was my experience of year one of the Aquarium Foundation: unlocking opportunities.
It was an incredible pleasure and privilege getting to know the passionate, dedicated, professional and highly skilled team of educators, biologists and administrators who immediately embraced the ‘let’s do it’ attitude and swivel our activities before the word pivot became the most used word of 2020.
Masks on! To keep us connected, we often had a challenge to meet every week, like sending a picture of yourself with your mask.
So, what did the Aquarium Foundation team do and achieve during 2020? Well, firstly, we knew that in a world where you are locked in and scared you need to stay connected, and our amazing ‘tech team’ had us on Zoom and Teams within days and our regular huddles kept us inspired, united and on track to continue to pursue our strategic objectives for the year. We also realised that we had to figure out how to have fun (wear a funny hat to the (home) office happened often) and how to share and project kindness, love and light even though mostly the e-version. This decision to tackle the pandemic as a supportive team and to find ways of sharing, informing, inspiring and reaching people all over the world with our ocean awareness and education programs set us up for success during the most challenging of times to start a non-profit organisation.
We also made plans to ensure that little stranded sea turtles were still located and rescued, even when beaches were closed, and the immense power of radical collaboration contributed to ongoing marine conservation and our 2020 impacts.
Regular huddles kept the team connected throughout lockdown
A team cleanup on our one-year anniversary at Mouille Point beach
As outgoing Sea-E-Oh of this special organisation I am so proud of our 2020 impact list.
Who would have thought that we would go from about eight courses per annum, in 2019, to 23 courses in 2020, of which five were fully sponsored and reached more than 600 learners from under resourced areas. These in-depth courses informed and inspired well over 1000 participants, and for a first time ever, over 100 participants from other provinces and countries. Global reach is what we are after, and this was a great step in the right direction.
We launched our online Marine Sciences curriculum, a listed subject with the Department of Basic Education. A dream come true for our Head of Education after years of immense input, planning and development. We can now teach Marine Sciences to Gr 10 – 12 learners as a recognised school subject. What an incredible achievement. We currently have almost 100 learners registered.
We initiated three fantastic web series’ with incredible educational content about our ocean, the environment and how to look after it. We were even featured on Cape Town TV and we are exploring options to create a permanent educational channel or series (as in NatGeo vibes).
Our staff took every opportunity to learn more during the year, and besides presenting a phenomenal amount of webinars and lessons, we also attended eight conferences, 150 courses and 268 webinars! Yip, I can confirm that we hardly slept in 2020.
Online lessons and courses kept our team busy during lockdown
Our conservation and welfare work continued throughout with thousands of hours of turtle rehabilitation work and seal monitoring. We received 37 loggerhead hatchlings and 12 larger turtles (loggerheads, greens and hawksbills). Yoshi’s remarkable 41 000km journey inspired the entire world and this impressive loggerhead sea turtle became a true celebrity with that world record swim of hers from Africa to Australia. She made sure we received great media features on almost all the continents and during a time where no humans could travel, she traveled on our behalf.
Our seal team disentangled 42 seals in the V&A harbour and responded to 178 wildlife rescue call-outs. They also assisted and observed many other marine species such as otters, sunfish, dolphins, an elephant seal and various sea birds.
We hosted virtual interns and real world students, and had two scientific papers approved for publication, while collaborating with more than 20 organisations on marine conservation and research.
We joined a number of permitted beach cleanups during this time and were featured in radio and TV interviews on average twice per week with many front-page stories as we managed to deliver some good news during a very stressful time.
It really was our year of unlocking opportunities so that we could continue to work towards our mission of connecting all people to the ocean and their natural world. I was inspired by witnessing the realisation by humans that they need nature in their lives, which of course created even more opportunities to inspire people to care about this wonderful but fragile world we live in.
2020 was tough. No doubt about that. However, I will forever remember it as the year where we pulled together as an ocean family to survive a terrible global pandemic while continuing to care about each other and our beautiful ocean.
I salute our team. The non-stop dedication, passion, creativity and innovation to share beautiful and informative ocean stories. I appreciate our committed supporters and friends who adopted turtles, paid for outreach visits, shared incredible content (all our underwater photographer friends), raised funds (running ultra-marathons, crossing mountains, swimming long distances, sitting in sailing boats day and night – yes – all of you helped us) and shared our stories across all media platforms. You all directly contributed to kick starting this Foundation in the most impactful way possible. I am so happy and excited to be handing over to a true thought leader, an ocean passionate strategist and impact specialist to support and lead our incredible Foundation team to reach for the (sea) stars and connect all people to our ocean.
To Ann and team, I wish you well and look forward to celebrating your ongoing success all the way from the Northern Hemisphere.
Met vriendelijke groeten en liefde, Maryke.
Claudine van Zyl completed her Work Imtegrated Learning (WIL) internship with us last year. Her research project was: ‘The characterisation of plastics in stranded post-hatchling loggerhead turtles along the South African coastline from 2015 to 2020’.
Bob, a green turtle in our care, has been with us since November 2014. While he is not ready for release yet, we are preparing him so that he has the best chance of survival back in the big blue. Alex Panagiotou, one of our turtle team specialists, is working with Bob through enrichment programmes and research.
Grant Blakeway completed the 2020 Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge by solo rowing 4 800 km across the Atlantic. He did this to highlight the issue of plastic pollution in the ocean.