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Youth highlight plight of our oceans

Annual Ocean Stewards Science Session

The youth shone a light on the importance of Marine Protected Areas with an evening of original poetry, inspiration and a spotlight performance at the WILDOCEANS Ocean Stewards’ Dinner on the Dock event held at Trawlers Wharf in Durban last week.

With the launch of the annual four-day WILDOCEANS Ocean Stewards’ Science Sessions held at UKZN’s Howard Campus – which brought students together with leading marine scientists on Monday, September 17 – the Dinner on the Dock was a celebration of the work done in the environmental and conservation sector in honour of the oceans.

Main picture: Left to right, Lauren van Nijkerk, marketing director at WILDTRUST, Margo Branch, co-author of Living Shores, Nomxolisi Mashiyi, the Department of Environmental Affairs’ Director of Youth Development, Dr Jean Harris, executive of WILDOCEANS, and Professor George Branch, co-author of Living Shores, pictured at the Ocean Stewards Dinner on the Dock event last week.

Honouring the youth’s invitation, guest speaker at the dinner, Department of Environmental Affairs’ Director of Youth Development Nomxolisi Mashiyi said she was excited to be in the midst of such committed and focused future leaders of South Africa. She said it inspired her to see so many young women in the field of marine science.

Future leaders

“You need to continue with what you’re doing, you need to do more in terms of taking centre stage in managing the environment and being part of leadership in this country because you are the future leaders,” she said.

The Ocean Stewards’ programme was launched in recognition of the threats facing our oceans and provides young marine science students with experience that gives them unique insights into marine conservation and provides opportunities for hands-on research integration.

The Science Sessions is a capacity building programme that forms part of the student’s journey. It gives access to career guidance and mentorship within the sector.

Enjoying the Dinner on the Dock event, which marked all the hard work undertaken in marine conservation and protecting our oceans.

The youth have become increasingly aware of the threats the oceans face and are advocating for increased protection. With a push for 5% marine protection of our marine areas by the end of the year, some of the Ocean Stewards along with youth from WILDOCEANS and other environmental organisations across the country have developed a Youth for MPA (Y4MPA) initiative.

Protected area expansion

This strives to pull together young people from across the country to get passionate and active about ocean protection. They have already established communication platforms and have written a letter to the Minister of Environmental Affairs, Dr Edna Molewa to advocate on the behalf of the stalled marine protected area expansion.

This year the Science Session programme focussed on MPAs and the blue economy. Over four days, key speakers made up of industry practitioners from various departments including NGOs and government representatives, gave presentations and held one-on-one engagement sessions with the students. George Branch (Emeritus Professor at the University of Cape Town) and his wife Margo Branch, also presented and spoke about their book, Living Shores.

Stock sales a catalyst for social change

ACEP (African Coelacanth Ecosystem Programme) Canyon Connections researchers also gave a presentation of masters’ projects available to the Ocean Stewards next year. Twelve masters’ students were given the opportunity to present on the progress of their work and how their projects fit into the bigger picture of MPAs and the blue economy.

On the final day, following the previous days’ fun and interactive science communications training by Jive Media, the students participated in the closed round of FameLab heats, which is an international science communications platform hosted by the British Council to assess the students on their ability to present and communicate their research. The council hosted a closed heat for the Ocean Stewards who went down from 28 participants to 10 and were then narrowed down to 3 runners-up.

South Africa’s oceans legacy lags behind

The two top students, Merissa Naidoo, who took first place, and Njabulo Mdluli, who earned second place, will be funded to attend the national round of FameLab heats as well as receive the Master of Science Communications training from the British Council, where the winners from those rounds will go to the international fame lab stage.

Third runner-up Armstrong Gumbi said, “This year you left me speechless by bringing JiveMedia to us as a learning experience. Thank you ever so much to everyone working behind the scenes on our Ocean Steward family.”

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