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SAEON-NMU marine science camp sets out to uplift the next generation of scientists

By Nozipiwo Hambaze, Science Engagement Officer, SAEON Elwandle Node
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In many schools, but more specifically in township schools, opportunities are not always available for learners to engage in science by using the outdoors as a classroom.

SAEON’s Elwandle Node has been presenting marine science camps over several years to enhance the local learners’ awareness of ocean science.

As part of its science engagement programme, the Elwandle Node partnered with Nelson Mandela University (NMU) to run a weekend science camp at Pine Lodge in Port Elizabeth during the first weekend of March. The focus of the camp was to engage grade 11 learners in a hands-on coastal research experience and provide an opportunity for them to meet with practising scientists who supported and encouraged them to undertake their own authentic research.

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Learners collect water quality data                                                        

Learners identify and classify the different kinds of organisms they found in fresh water and in the marine environment

Exploring the wonders of the ocean

Dr Phumelele Gama, Dr Paul-Pierre Steyn and students from the NMU Botany Department led a group of 21 learners from schools in Port Elizabeth, Uitenhage, Paterson and Grahamstown. Excitement, curiosity and enthusiasm were almost tangible in the camp as the learners immersed themselves in marine science.

The intensive data collection activity included photo-quadrat sampling with cameras supplied by the Sustainable Seas Trust. During the coastal ecology study, learners collected water quality data using a multi-parameter probe (YSI), explored the wonders of the sea when they identified species in the intertidal zone and participated in an activity on dune vegetation and plant identification.

Getting acquainted with different kinds of organisms

Later in the day, the learners were taken to the NMU lab for microscopic work to identify and classify different kinds of organisms found in fresh water and in the marine environment. They learned how to use a microscope and a manual to analyse the samples they collected. Many learners said that it was their first introduction to a microscope.

A science camp is not complete without learners presenting their group projects. When asked how they experienced the presentations, most of them said “it was a nerve-wracking experience, but a skill we needed to learn”.

The learners' presentations were highly commended by scientists, who indicated that early exposure to coastal and marine science could encourage learners to become marine scientists. The teachers strongly felt that they were not doing enough to cultivate the skills learned at the camp.

Learners indicated that they appreciated meeting real scientists and being young scientists themselves.

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