It was all nerves and last-minute speech-revision last night in the stunning Tranquility boardroom as Two Oceans Aquarium Head of Education Russell Stevens’ terrific teenagers – the Young Biologists (YBs) – gathered to make their voices heard. PA to Russell Katja Rockstroh manned the equipment that would allow these South African future leaders to connect with their contemporaries in France, Monaco and the United States of America.
The “Voices for the Future of our Oceans” video conference is part of the 8th International Aquarium Congress (IAC) that kicks off on Monday 10 September at the Cape Town International Convention Centre. Hop over to this link to read the full story Voices for the Future of the Oceans.
Two Oceans Aquarium Young Biologists were joined – via top-notch video-streaming technology and lots and lots of bandwidth – by budding marine biologists from the Institut Océanographique (Monaco), Monterey Bay Aquarium (Monterey, USA) and Nausicaá, Centre National de la Mer (France) to discuss a range of topics including descriptions of shorelines, specific environmental problems facing these shorelines, the question of whether endangered animals should be exhibited in aquariums, and how youth can be inspired to engage with nature through aquariums.
This youth-oriented video conference is a first for the IAC, which happens every four years. In another first, the IAC is being hosted in Africa this time around. The Two Oceans Aquarium is the host, and its staff – from the top all the way to the bottom – have been hard at work for the past two years to host the “Aquarium Olympics”.
The teens from the other side of the world raised very interesting facts and issues – it was encouraging to note that marine environment challenges align the world over.
In Monaco, which is on the Mediterranean, booming human populations are putting immense pressure on marine resources, said the group from Institut Océanographique. Approximately 278-million tourists visit the Mediterranean every year, and it receives 30% of international marine traffic. Over-consumption of predators like bluefin tuna has resulted in dangerous multiplication of jellyfish in the Mediterranean.
The Two Oceans Aquarium’s YBs outlined South Africa’s problems as follows: We are at the mercy of overfishing, pollution, poaching, seabed mining and oil spills. That’s quite a long list.
Students in France talked about the scale of the fishing industry and the importance of promoting sustainable seafood consumption.
For Monterey Bay Aquarium, overfishing, declining otter populations and the need for ocean conservation awareness were top of mind.
Overfishing came up a lot and it was great to note that campaigns around the world are engaging with consumers to help them make sustainable choices in seafood. Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch programme has been a big success; in South Africa, the South African Sustainable Seafood Initiative (SASSI) is making inroads and in Europe, Mr GoodFish tackles the same problems … and solutions.
We took to the internet to tweet the event, and the response was amazing! Said @LightEls from California: “It is amazing how we all can connect with each other and discuss our environmental issues!” That is a cause for hope.
We even gained some followers who are not directly involved in the IAC. The power of modern technology! Tweeted @chriscombrink: “Quite interesting listening to the Aquariums around the world discuss challenges faced, globally.”
Two Oceans Aquarium YB @Megan_RoseF tweeted: “Educating the next generations!” Education will be emphasised at the 8th IAC as the dire need to engage future leaders becomes more apparent. Aquariums around the world are making education a priority, as was apparent during this conference, and the Two Oceans Aquarium invests one-third of its annual profits back into educating communities in and around the Cape Town area.
For Russell Stevens, the youth conference represented something big. “This is a dream come true,” he said. On long, cross-continental journeys to other aquariums, he had often wondered how he could get his staff and students engaged with their friends across the pond. Technology has provided the answer to long-haul flights and rising travel costs (both financial and footprint-wise).
A resolution was written at the end of the night, which will be presented at the 8th IAC’s Education plenary session on Monday 10 September.
The Two Oceans Aquarium YBs had pizza for dinner and spent the night at the Aquarium, sleeping among the sharks …
For more on last night’s event, visit our Twitter profile for all the great – informative and quite opinionated – tweets.
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