Dare to Care about Albatrosses

Written by Dr Mariëtte Wheeler, Protea Heights Academy

With the second school term of the year being extremely busy with activities, assessments and especially the June exam that coincided with two conservation days, it was decided to celebrate three special days in one! These days were Earth Day (22 April), World Oceans Day (8 June) and World Albatross Day (19 June). The Marine Sciences Department and Ecophilia Society of Protea Heights Academy (a sciences and maths school in Cape Town) hosted our Ocean Awareness Celebration on 22 April 2022.

The main aims of the event were to raise awareness of current issues in the marine environment, to provide career guidance relating to Oceanography and other marine-related careers and to give learners the opportunity to interact with researchers from various NGOs and research organisations. The event was attended by 127 learners from four different schools, namely Bernadino Heights High School, Groote Schuur High School, Melkbosstrand High School and Protea Heights Academy. The latter three schools all offer the relatively new FET subject Marine Sciences.

Protea Heights Academy Gr 11 Marine Sciences class dancing to The Little Mermaid’s theme song “Under the Sea”
Dr Wheeler with the masters of ceremonies for the event, Kara Robberts and Kyle Laskey

First on the programme was a dance performance on The Little Mermaid’s theme song “Under the Sea” by the Gr 11 Marine Sciences class joined by their teacher, Dr Mariëtte Wheeler. This was followed by talks by University of Cape Town’s Ocean Womxn: Caroline Sejeng, Tania Duba, and Philile Mvula. They enthusiastically presented on what motivated them to study towards different fields in Oceanography and challenges they overcame. During the interactive session, the South African Environmental Observation Network (SAEON) as well as Dr Tamaryn Morris and Mardene de Villiers from the South African Weather Service (SAWS) showed equipment used on-board research vessels. Learners also visited the display stalls hosted by Anche Louw and Tahlia Henry (Antarctic Legacy of South Africa), Reason Nyengara (BirdLife’s Albatross Task Force) and the Iziko Museums. Every child and educator also received a goodie bag. Especially the Gr 11 and Gr 12 learners made use of the opportunity to talk about what life as marine scientists entail in the various organisational settings.

During break, barista-style coffee was sold by Soul Coffee and pancakes by Poppies Cafe. Learners enjoyed the opportunity to interact with like-minded learners from other schools. They also had the opportunity to view the artwork of the Ocean Art competition.

One of the entries in the pollution category

John Cooper (honory Information Officer for the Agreement on the Conservation of Albatrosses and Petrels (ACAP) and news correspondent for Mouse-Free Marion) presented the first public showing of this year’s music video “Life for the Albatross”. This video was especially produced for World Albatross Day by artist Kitty Harvill and musician John Nicolosi commissioned by ACAP from Artists and Biologist Unite for Nature (ABUN). The lovely art work presented in the video also fitted in with our Ocean Art Competition theme.

Reason Nyengara (BirdLife’s Albatross Task Force Project Manager) presented on how mitigation measurements and on-board observers have reduced bycatch by 80% in some of the world’s deadliest fisheries. His honest account of life on-board fishing vessels gave real insight to the learners. This was followed by Robyn Adams (Mouse-Free Marion Communications Officer) presenting on the Mouse-Free Marion Project to eradicate mice from sub-Antarctic Marion Island. A special treat was the voice clip sent by Dr Anton Wolfaardt (Mouse-Free Marion Project Manager) from onboard the SA Agulhas II while waiting to go ashore the island.

Reason Nyengara from BirdLife’s Albatross Task Force presenting on measurements to reduce bycatch of albatrosses

During the event, two external judges Elzette Krynauw (Biodiversity Management Branch, City of Cape Town) and Careen Cahill-Laurent (artist at The Yellow Door, Brackenfell) scored the art entries. These were entered in three categories, namely Conservation/Sustainable use, Pollution, and Wildlife. Learners were tasked to draw, paint, computer design or make a model. While finalising the scores of the competition, Mr Andile Mkandla (CLS-Southern Africa) presented on what a career as an environmental consultant in the marine environment entails. Winners of the competition received prizes from CLS-Southern Africa, MPact (also responsible for the paper recycling at Protea Heights Academy), SAWS, and Art-by-Marri. All winners also received an ACAP poster with photos of Tristan Albatrosses.

External judges Elzette Krynauw and Careen Cahill-Laurent scoring the entries of the Ocean Art Competition

To demonstrate our support for the Mouse-Free Marion Project, money was raised during our Dare To Care raffle (R5 a ticket) and the art entries (R10 per art work). Poppies also donated a part of their pancake sale’s income. We raised R4,000 towards this project.

This event was initially envisioned by John Cooper and Mariëtte Wheeler in March 2020. Two weeks later, our plans were cancelled due to COVID-19 and the lockdown. Regardless of this, Protea Heights Academy Marine Sciences continued to host an online Creative Class Competition for the first World Albatross Day on 19 June 2020. But it was very special to see our dream come true when it all came together in an entertaining, yet thought-provoking event during this year.

In celebrating our oceans and by focusing on the current crisis of mice eating the albatrosses on Marion Island alive, learners realised that there is much more to science, sustainability and conservation than learning textbook facts!