Even though I never explored the ocean before, like I do now, growing up I had a deep love for it, rooted by the stories my father always told me from his adventures in District Six to the sea.
There came a point where I wondered why I didn’t see many people who looked like me doing all the things I daydreamed about, like diving or working with marine life. I was inspired to try something new (I really just wanted to give kids in my neighbourhood a reason to be curious and to spark a little bit hope that they could do it too.)
It was at this time that (four years ago) I knew I needed to put myself out there. I enquired about the freediving courses at Cape Town Freediving, and posted this on social media in order to get a group discount. I then received a DM from Juneid Petersen, saying I must come and join him and his friend’s dive, while I wait for people to join my course. This was my first time I ever put a mask on my face. I was so terrified at first and all I could hear was the soundtrack to Jaws playing in my head. Once I relaxed, and saw nothing was out to get me, and I then started to witness first hand what beauty the ocean held.
I was very upset at first, thinking: I live 40 minutes away from the ocean. Why has it taken me 33 years to finally get this experience. I kept thinking, I am only one person, how many others must have felt like I did. This then lead me to start my journey on giving children education and the experience that I never got as a child. In the hopes of changing the current mind set that we were programmed with, by past events that made us believe that the ocean if not for us.
I joined a social group of freedivers called Trail Freedivers, to learn more about freediving and to find diving buddies. Only a few weeks after my first dive, I started bringing my nieces along with children from my community so they could start learning about our ocean and start to learn how to snorkel. Cape Town Freediving put me on their courses for free, in order to have the necessary rescue training to be safe and keep the children safe. When I saw the look on the children’s faces and the questions they started to ask, I knew that there was a serious need for this program, not only in my community, but also for all youth. I had zero knowledge about the oceans but the passion to get myself and my kids educated, was burning in me, and lead to me reaching out to the experts that could help. A guy named Mike Barron, who is the founder of Cape RADD, put me on his Citizen Science courses for free so I could start learning more about what I am seeing in the ocean, and so that I could the transfer that knowledge over to the kids.
One day, when I had the kids at an underwater cleanup hosted by Trail Freedivers, I met Chris Krauss, who called me up that same night and said that he saw me and the kids, and it inspired him and his wife to want to give back and help. He then asked me, why I don’t start my own organization. I just said, why not. This was the conception of #seathebiggerpicture Ocean Initiative. We have two main programs: our Beach Clean Events, and our youth program called Defenders Of The Blue.
On the Cape Flats there are little to no marine conservation programs, and even less people willing to come into our areas to teach it. This is why our Defenders Of The Blue program is so important and dear to my heart. It is not only a way to positively change the youth from my community, but also a way to develop new Defenders Of The Blue. God knows, our Ocean needs all the help she can get. I am extremely grateful to the amazing team that we have, a group who has the same passion for children and a willingness to teach and share their experiences.
Our program is a one-year long mentoring program, with a curriculum drawn up by Argonaut Science. Here we teach the kids how to snorkel, and give them an introduction to marine science. We teach them the scientific method so they go on to becoming citizen scientists and are able to share their knowledge with their families and friends. All the projects are done by the children themselves. I have truly been blessed to have amazing people in my life to help me selflessly on my journey, especially my mentors Sharon Lee Martin and Charl Marias.
Annie and Luis, two adult loggerhead turtles release off the coast of Cape Town, have together already travelled more than 4000 km in 20 days.
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.