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Learners participate in land-based analysis of their observations at sea

From ocean-based observations under the expert tutelage of Dr Larry Hutchings...

…to land-based analysis of the data downloaded from the Argo floats under the watchful eye of expert technician Hassan Ismail (Pictures: Thomas Mtontsi)

Learners Thembekile Gontshi (left) and Tania Moyikwa explore a laboratory at Marine and Coastal Management (Picture: Thomas Mtontsi)

Learning by discovery (Picture: Thomas Mtontsi)

- Thomas Mtontsi, Education Outreach Officer, SAEON Egagasini Node

In South Africa there is a shortage of young environmental scientists from previously disadvantaged schools.

Although several reasons have been put forward for this, staff members of SAEON’s Egagasini Node are convinced that nurturing young scientists from these areas and leading them to a more thorough understanding of environmental science will interest more of them in choosing science as a career. To quote Senegalese conservationist Baba Dioum: "In the end, we will conserve only what we love, we will love only what we understand, and we will understand only what we are taught."

In order to assist learners in gaining a more thorough understanding of the oceans surrounding South Africa, the Node’s Education Outreach has opted for a rather unusual platform in the implementation of its school programme by selecting a monitoring team in three of the five schools involved in the school-based monitoring programme. This core group of 10 to 15 learners at each school has assumed responsibility for keeping track of how ocean conditions are changing by studying data downloaded from SAEON Egagasini’s Argo float data programme.

The Argo programme presents an ideal opportunity for school-based monitoring. SAEON’s challenge is to make this programme a voyage of discovery for the learners and to expose them to marine sciences and the opportunity to acquire knowledge and skills exploring the ocean as an environment.

Shortly after their interesting short-leg cruise that monitors ocean conditions off St. Helena Bay, the learners who participated in the cruise followed through with land-based analysis by observing and participating in the processes, which were facilitated by chemical experts. Downloading and analysing data from SAEON’s two Argo floats in 10-day cycles are expected to help strengthen the information technology abilities of the learners as well as their capability for scientific inquiry.

The analyses were overseen by Hassan Ismail, an expert technician from Marine and Coastal Management (MCM) with a readiness to share his wealth of knowledge and expertise with eager young minds. The cruise experience was necessary to get the learners to understand and make sense of the data downloaded from the Argo Floats.

With this endeavour SAEON Egagasini is hoping to build a bridge of understanding and awareness between Secondary schools sciences and the role of ocean scientists as we seek to integrate these spheres.

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