Riding a wave of conservation and community spirit 

Black Mermaid and Adopt A Swimmer Workshop © Carmen Claire
Published: July 12th, 2022
by Janet Middleton

Riding a wave of conservation and community spirit at Plett Ocean Festival

“Citizen science – there is power in numbers and we can make a difference.”
Zandile Ndhlovu, Black Mermaid Foundation

The first Plett Ocean Festival, and Marine Science Symposium, held in Plettenberg Bay from 1 – 10 July 2022 has proved three very solid propositions: firstly, that the ocean provides an enigmatic attraction for almost anyone who lives nearby, secondly, that many, many people are deeply curious about the mysteries of the ocean and its creatures and that, thirdly, Plettenberg Bay is the ideal place for such a festival to be held!

The festival proved a resounding success with over 500 tickets sold for the Marine Science Symposium, held at the Beacon Island Resort, averaging 150 people per day and with full three-day passes as the highest contributor to sales.  The festival and symposium were introduced alongside an invitation to Observe.Conserve.Preserve. providing a platform for both conservation and community involvement with the phrase “citizen science” used as both a presentation topic and to denote regular community members who contribute towards research, volunteer and assist conservationists on their projects. And, if you’re going to be a citizen scientist, Plett is certainly the place to do it.

Dolphins Plettenberg Bay © Go Travel Bug
Dolphins in Plettenberg Bay © Go Travel Bug

The Marine Science Symposium was MCed by passionate freediving instructor, influencer and dynamic presenter, Zandile Ndhlovu of the Black Mermaid Foundation. Ndhlovu founded the Black Mermaid Foundation seeking to create diverse representation in the ocean arena of South Africa. Her work centres around enabling access to ocean spaces for local ocean communities with the goal of inclusive participation, recreationally and professionally, while creating a new generation of ocean guardians. To this end, the Black Mermaid Foundation partnered with Plett’s Louise Ausperg of Adopt A Swimmer to introduce new young swimmers to the wonders beneath the surface of the Keurbooms Estuary, which include rays, juvenile reef fish, sea hares and much more. It was a match made in paradise as Ausperg and Ndhlovu’s workshop was received with great enthusiasm from participants and brought an optimistic and wondrous spirit to the festival from the first day.  

In our global climate, a symposium around conservation and marine science might have been filled with doom, gloom and dire warnings, however, each presenter brought their knowledge and passion to the symposium with a fresh perspective, solution thinking and a true desire to share their work. MC Zandile and symposium attendees returned this enthusiasm with their own curiosity fostering positive conversations and optimistic networking opportunities. Highlights included Dr Chantel Elston’s “What lives in the Keurbooms Estuary”, Lacey Williams’ “The White Sharks of Plettenberg Bay”, Lloyd Edwards’ “Humpback Whale Migration Route”, and Danielle Conry’s “A story of killer whale research in South Africa” were hugely popular with Williams’ talk sold out. Pierre de Villiers and Chanel Hauvette, both of CapeNature, tackled the challenges of marine protected areas and marine life strandings, respectively, and Ndhlovu further impressed with a kind and thought-provoking look at why diverse representation in our ocean spaces is so important.

Plett Tourism’s festival director, Cindy Wilson-Trollip was full of praise for the presenters of the Marine Science Symposium and the catalyst it created for conversation around conservation, saying: “Much of the information shared by the researchers and naturalists seems to have galvanised many into proactive conservation efforts. Fascinating presentations highlighted just how easy it is to be a “citizen scientist” and contribute in meaningful ways to research and preservation of the ocean and marine life.” She continued by praising conservationists who spend hours and days in the field, whatever the weather. “We are very pleased to have created a platform where this knowledge can be shared,” Wilson-Trollip concluded.

In addition to the Marine Science Symposium, the festival produced a variety of fun, family-friendly and ocean-centred activities that included a sandcastle competition, nurdle hunt, art exhibitions and workshops, a fun run, fishing competition and a series of screenings of the animated film, Seal Team to school-age children with a strong conservation message from Kellyn Whitehead of Nature’s Valley Trust,  to protect our oceans from plastic and other pollution. Festival-goers were also fortunate that Plett’s sea conditions were exceptional for marine sightings with reports of dolphins, seals and humpback whales just a short distance from the beaches and Beacon Island Resort during a single day of Marine Science Symposium. It was an honour to witness Plett’s incredible marine life in action whilst attending a conservation symposium aimed at raising awareness for these animals and many others.

Local photographer and symposium attendee, Rob Smith – whose iconic photo of Robberg and the Milky Way with vibrant bioluminescence in ocean perfectly captures the wild beauty of Plettenberg Bay – praised the Marine Science Symposium programme, saying it was “a Pandora’s box of Plett’s marine ecology.” Smith went on to say, “Numerous marine scientists – specialists in their fields of expertise – imparted breathtaking knowledge on the diversity of marine life in the bay. A number of attendees have, no doubt, become inspired to be more involved in the environmental preservation of our very own Bahia Formosa (beautiful bay).”

Plett Ocean Festival Night © Rob Smith
Night © Rob Smith

The Plett Ocean Festival and Marine Science Symposium were very well received by both Plett residents and holiday visitors and, with something for everyone and the enormous enthusiasm displayed for both our marine life and citizen science, Plett Tourism is excited to see where the next Plett Ocean Festival will take us as there are many lessons to learn and many currents still to follow.To sum up in the words of the festival’s final presenter, Sue Swain, who discussed Biomimicry – Ocean Inspiration and Lessons, “There is an intelligent wisdom and generosity about nature. We are surrounded by genius.”