Friday December 18, 2015
When Cape Town reaches Algoa Bay- French school kids in our Hope Spot
by Dr Lorien Pichegru, Algoa Bay Hope Spot chairperson and NMMU researcher.
This year a class of Grade 7 kids from the French School of Cape Town (l’Ecole Francaise du Cap) discovered the oceans, the diversity of marine life, the threats they face and the conservation efforts that we can all do in a project they called “Algoa Bay”, under the auspice of the Hope Spot initiative. In this brilliant multi-disciplinary project, beautifully orchestrated by their biology teacher, Mme Isabelle Defert, the children learned about a broad varieties of exciting fields such as biology, physics, oceanography, systematics, mathematics, photography, art, English, fund raising, the maintenance of a blog, and most importantly, they had the chance to visit our beautiful Algoa Bay Hope Spot.
The kids worked hard all along the year to raise their own funds to come and visit Algoa Bay all the way from Cape Town. Their dedication was rewarded and several companies kindly agreed to support their education towards marine conservation: TFE, LUNAR pharmaceuticals, PLEASE, AGS frasers, MOL and PHARMAKINA. The Sustainable Seas Trust jumped in by lending 20 little cameras donated by Canon for a photo competition the kids were going to have later in the year.
They prepared their trip in anticipation and started learning about why oceans are important for the planet, why the sea is salty, how phytoplankton looks like and how it is the base of all marine food webs.
In November, a much excited class finally came to visit the Algoa Bay Hope Spot. I took the children on a tour with Raggy Charters, to see the large marine lives. We saw a Humpback whale mother and her new born calf that treated us with a show, jumping again, again and again. The kids saw the thousands of African penguins moulting on St Croix Island, their world largest colony, and I told them about their dramatic fate. They learn how African penguins’ eggs and guano used to be collected and how now, even if the birds themselves are protected, they are starving to death because they can’t find enough sardines and anchovies to survive. They also learn, though, how a Marine Protected Area for penguins can help their population to recover and how Algoa Bay is a shining example for the protection of their marine predators! On our way back, we were also treated with some of our 20 000 bottlenose dolphins cruising in the bay…
Later on, the children went to SAMREC and learned everything about seabirds and penguins’ rehabilitation. They witnessed how the birds were fed by the efficient volunteers there, and enjoyed it a lot. I told them about the Hope Spot initiative and what they can all do to help marine conservation, like limiting the use of plastics, recycling, only eating fish from SASSI green list and spreading the word!
The following day, we met with Jenny Rump of the Zwartkops Conservancy and the kids (and the teachers!) got fascinated by the diversity of animals in an estuary and shocked by the amount of pollution coming from the storm water drain, from Motherwell straight to the oceans, plastic, sewage and all…. They also learn, from a simple experiment, how ocean acidification is slowly destroying our coral reefs and how the CO2 humans produced increases this acidification.
After this eye-opening day about the threats on the oceans, they got to witness the beauty and the diversity of marine life. With a few copies of Georges Branch’s “Two Oceans – A Guide to the Marine Life of Southern Africa” under the armpit, we went to Cape Recife at low tide and gently turned some rocks. We saw brittle stars, peanut worms, urchins of all colours, starfishes, limpets, and so much more, including a cheeky octopus hidden under a rock that tried to catch the kids’ fingers. After that, they went for a snorkel on the beautiful beach of Sardinia Bay. There, I told them about the diverse impacts of industrial fishing and make them all promise to take a commitment to Do One Thing from now on for marine conservation…
All along their trip, the kids were so interested, enthusiast and excited, it was such a pleasure to see. They regularly wrote about their experience and what they learned in a great blog (http://efdcsciences.blogspot.fr/2015_11_01_archive.html).
Finally, this beautiful experience culminated in an End-of-the-Year party in December, to which the entire French community was invited (http://www.consulfrance-lecap.org/Soiree-speciale-ALGOA-BAY-a-l-ecole-francaise-le-lundi-14-decembre). The director of the French School gave a proud speech about this exciting project and the consul of France told the assistance about the agreement reached at COP 21 the previous week. I presented the Hope Spot to the French community of Cape Town and the kids showed a beautiful movie they created with their art teacher on what they learned that year, using shadow puppets; the role of the oceans, the woes of the penguins and what we can all do to help… They ended up by presenting their commitments to marine conservation to the community. The world is now that tiny little bit better thanks to them. What a beautiful experience it has been for all of us!