The Two Oceans Aquarium has been abuzz with excitement, as the 8th International Aquarium Congress (IAC 2012) is a mere two weeks away. Hosting the IAC is a great achievement for the Aquarium and making this event even more special is that, for the first time, it will be taking place on African soil and in the Southern Hemisphere.
Another first at the 8th IAC is the emphasis on the importance that education should play at aquariums today. Due to this, the opening day of the IAC has been dedicated to education, with top people from the aquarium industry presenting papers on education initiatives that are taking place all around the world. As part of the opening day, we wanted to give the youth a chance to voice their concerns and to make suggestions about what can be improved on in the aquarium community.
The perfect platform for youth to be heard was at the IAC Youth Symposium, which took place on 19 August at the Two Oceans Aquarium in the Metropolitan Health Think Tank Auditorium. Thirty-five young people attended the event, of which 14 delivered a five-minute speech.
Our first speaker, Matthew Courtney, a Grade 9 homeschooler, spoke about the legacy of aquariums, how the Romans kept fish under their beds in marble tanks and how the potential of e-aquariums could open up an underwater world to many that do not have access to a real one. The presentations by Megan-Rose Francis, a Grade 11 learner, Pema de Wet, a Grade 4 learner and Frances Hill and Erin Marsberg, both in Grade 6, spoke about how social media and technology is the perfect way to get young people of today involved.
Megan aptly said: “We need to remember, to teens everything is: tweet this, blog that!” Oliver Hansen, Saamiya Alli, Alan Eaby, Kirsten Barratt and Nina Lawrenson, all in Grade 11, highlighted important issues that aquariums should address and raise awareness about, such as marine pollution, coral bleaching and the commonly misunderstood nature of sharks. Rudolf Boshoff and Jethan d’Hotman both discussed the importance of education in an aquarium and Rudolf specifically spoke about the different ways youth can be reached through education.
The last two speakers of the day were Nikki Cathcart and Laura Andreas. While Nikki emphasised that aquariums play a vital role in creating public awareness, Laura said: “How do you best get the youth to feel responsible? You involve them, you educate them, you let them experience, you give them opportunities, you listen to them, you give them responsibility and you acknowledge them.”
Our judging panel, made up of Russell Stevens, Bianca Engel and Xavier Zylstra – all senior staff members of the Aquarium’s Environmental Education Centre – deliberated on the title of Best Speaker. The audience acted as the fourth judge by voting for their favourite speech.
Russell Stevens then announced the top three talks:
3rd Place: Laura Andreas – “Individually we are one drop, together we are an ocean”
2nd Place: Kirsten Barratt and Nina Lawrenson – “Sharks: Who are the real victims?”
1st Place: Nikki Cathcart – “It’s time to start talking”
Russell had this to say on why Nikki was chosen as Best Speaker: “Nikki delivered her speech eloquently and exuded a passion for the oceans. She spoke as if she is a staff member and ambassador of the Two Oceans Aquarium. She also spoke with conviction about the importance of engaging with youth and supporting the messaging that our Aquarium wants to get out.”
As the winner of the IAC Youth Symposium, Nikki will get the chance to present her speech to all of the IAC delegates on the opening day of the congress on 10 September 2012.
The event continued after a short lunch break with a discussion on various topics, such as the pros and cons of e-aquariums, whether it is ethical to keep animals in aquariums and who aquariums should target when raising awareness on marine conservation issues. It was a great debate and had to be cut short due to time limitations.
Voices for the Future of the Oceans
The second event, as a follow-up to the Youth Symposium, will take place on 7 September. The best debaters from the symposium will participate in an overnight Voices for the Future of the Oceans video conference, kindly sponsored by Pick n Pay, Comtel, Vox Pureview and Kathea.
The Cape Town students will have discussions with high school students gathered at other aquariums around the world, including Institut Océanographique (Monaco), Monterey Bay Aquarium (Monterey, USA), Nausicaá, Centre National de la Mer (France), National Marine Aquarium (Plymouth, United Kingdom), Ocean Park (Hong Kong) and Shedd Aquarium (Chicago, USA.
Out of this event, another representative will be chosen to speak at the opening day, to deliver the message that all of the youth taking part in the live video conference would like to share with the global aquarium community.