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Reflections from the SAEON National Marine Camp

By Mthokozisi Moyo (Arid Lands Node), Nozi Hambaze (Elwandle Node), Joe Sibiya (Ndluvo Node), Thomas Mtontsi (Egagasini Node) and Caitlin Ransom (National Office)
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In March this year, 33 learners from four SAEON nodes (Ndlovu, Elwandle, Egagasini and Arid Lands) converged on Port Elizabeth to attend the SAEON National Marine Camp hosted by the Elwandle Node.

For many learners this was not only their first visit to Port Elizabeth, but also the first time they travelled in an aeroplane, saw the sea and went on a boat ride.

The programme was aimed at exposing the learners to marine science. The youngsters were engaged in data collection and sampling through fieldwork on the rocky shore, stromatolite investigations, laboratory demonstrations and tours, field excursions, ecology lectures and presentations on a wide range of research work. Elwandle Node staff even took the youngsters on a boat trip around the harbour.

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Learners collect data on the rocky shore, exposing them to some of the wonders of marine science                                                  

The young scientists investigate stromatolites under the guidance of Dr Gavin Rishworth of Nelson Mandela University (left)

The learners were given an opportunity to work in the SAEON Elwandle Node’s laboratory at Nelson Mandela University. “Being in a fancy lab like that was a dream come true,” said Lesego Manner (Arid Lands Node) as she reflected on her experiences in the lab. Nande Mfunda (Egagasini Node) described it as an amazing experience to be in a “lab with real scientists”.

Other highlights of the camp included a trip to the Addo Elephant National Park, where the learners got to see elephants and a wide variety of other animals. During their visit to the Southern African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds (SANCCOB), they saw penguins and other sea birds that had been rescued. They  also enjoyed climbing the lighthouse at the Donkin Reserve, from where they viewed the city of Port Elizabeth from a totally different perspective.

The learners expressed their gratitude towards all the people involved in the arrangements. The food was also given a favourable mention.

The camp inspired Oswell Mandlazi, a learner from the Ndlovu Node, to aspire to follow a career in marine science. “The visit to the SAEON/Nelson Mandela University laboratory has influenced my choice of a career – I now want to follow a career in marine sciences at Nelson Mandela University. My dream may seem far-fetched, especially coming from a learner from a rural village in the Limpopo Province coupled with a disadvantaged family background, but I believe it is possible with a determined and willing heart.”

Nelisa Mahintsho, a learner from the Egagasini Node, also indicated that she would be interested in a career in the marine sciences. 

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Professor Tommy Bornman, manager of SAEON's Elwandle Coastal Node, shares his experience of conducting scientific research during his recent trip to Antarctica

Learners out on a boat ride with SAEON's Dr Shirley Parker-Nance and Dr Shaun Deyzel                                                                                                                                                                              

Social life skills

The camp offered learners more than just an academic learning experience; their social life skills were honed as well. Learners spoke of how the experience helped to improve their communication skills and self-confidence.

Tsheko Kabiti (Ndlovu Node) remarked on the difference between this learning experience and that obtained in the classroom: “It was a completely different environment that made it easy to connect with everyone and to form new friendships. I met and interacted with some great people. I feel like I left the camp a better team worker.“

The SAEON National Marine Camp not only taught learners about the marine sciences, but inspired many to believe they have the ability to pursue a career in science.

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