July 2015
Contents / home
Special award for Limpopo learner
National Science Olympiad Awards
Youth Science Focus Week
Showing career opportunities to girls
Africa Code Week
FameLab International Competition
My FameLab experience
Debates winners off to New York
Finding solutions to energy problems
Centenary of Proxima Centauri
Meet SAASTA's Gao Tiro
Refocusing our lens on our youth
Science on a research vessel
Partnership to conserve water
Managing freshwater resources
Rhodes and SAIAB promote science
In the news
Upcoming events
It's a fact!

Exploring science on board a research vessel

  The team on board the Algoa Research Vessel. From left: Denver Bowers, Thomas Mtontsi, Gilbert Musonah and Hannah Raven
  Gilbert gets to grips with science at sea
  Gilbert enjoys the opportunity to be a 'real scientist', recording data at sea
  Hannah and Gilbert on duty
A few months before the Agulhas System Climate Array (ASCA) project was launched by the South African Environmental Observation Network (SAEON), the international and local partners met to discuss logistics towards a successful maiden voyage and inaugural event.

Having been invited to the discussion, SAEON education officer Thomas Mtontsi proposed including an outreach team to investigate the project's education value for school sciences. Such a team would consist of an educator, a learner, an intern and an education officer.

Coordinators of the project welcomed the proposal, and this set in motion a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for Gilbert Musonah (grade 11 learner), Denver Bowers (science educator), both from Ocean View Secondary School, Hannah Raven (DST-NRF intern) and Thomas. The experience included a flight to Port Elizabeth and a return voyage on the Algoa Marine Research Vessel (RV).

Here are the perspectives of the team in their own words:

The intern: Hannah Raven

I had the privilege of joining the RV Algoa crew for the final leg of the ASCA cruise from Port Elizabeth to Cape Town at the end of April 2015.

After a long and busy day at the launch of the ASCA project, we boarded the Algoa and enjoyed a wonderful meal before the vessel was escorted out of the harbour by the pilot just after dark. As we left the harbour, the waves began to pick up and several of us contended with sea sickness before enjoying the smoother sailing of the following day.

Throughout the duration of the trip, surface water samples were collected every 15 minutes. All scientific crew were scheduled on six-hour shift rotations to collect these samples, which included 15 ml subsamples to be frozen and analysed for nutrients, as well as 500 ml of water to be filtered, providing a measure of total chlorophyll content within the water.

The ongoing water sampling allowed us a glimpse into what oceanographic sampling involves and provided insight for the learner, Gilbert Musonah, aiding him towards completing his project that will be presented at the Eskom Expo for Young Scientists later this year. Along with the sampling, we were provided first-hand experience of life at sea; including beautiful views and some wildlife such as seals and seabirds appearing every so often. After sampling shifts had been completed, the rest of the day was ours to explore and enjoy life on the ship.

We arrived in Cape Town two days later and after an hour's wait outside the harbour for one of the harbour pilots and several minutes of docking we were back on land. Along with an extra sway in our step for the days that followed, we walked off the boat more informed about the ASCA project and with the ability to tell others about the importance of oceanography.

Gilbert and his educator will continue working on his project for the national expo in September.

The learner: Gilbert Musonah

On 24 April my educator, Mr Bowers and I were privileged to fly to Port Elizabeth. As part of the programme I got a chance to explore the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University, where the ASCA project was launched. I met, interviewed and interacted with a range of Marine Science experts in different fields and departments, a privilege that inspired me and was instrumental in making me understand the ASCA project.

Later we boarded the Algoa research vessel, which took us back home to Cape Town. On board the ship were experts who had been working on the project for 20 days and I joined them for two of the days, collecting scientific samples of sea water. For me it was a privilege to be included in the shifts as it gave me the opportunity to be a 'real scientist'.

During this practical task I grew to understand the basic relationship between chlorophyll, region (latitude and longitude) and oxygen, and the factors influencing the decrease or increase of these components. This has been beneficial to my Life Science studies in related topics.

Besides the educational benefits, I had a lot of fun with awesome scientists and experts who treated me like their little brother, despite meeting me for the first time. It was my first time on board a ship and I had an awesome time, not to mention the sea sickness that my educator and I suffered, but it was just for one evening.

I enjoyed the accommodation, meals and programme on board the ship. I saw nature in action, i.e. dolphins, seals and floating species of zooplankton. The trip was an opportunity that has given me focus, determination and inspiration. I am forever grateful for such an honour.

It has also given me a better understanding of my project of comparing the volume of oxygen per region, determined by the chlorophyll present, to previously collected data. On behalf of Ocean View Secondary, Mr Bowers and myself, I would like to thank SAEON for such an opportunity and privilege.

The educator: Mr Denvor Bowers

This is to attest to my experience on the recent expedition from Port Elizabeth to Cape Town.

From all the things that I have done, this was surely the most interesting adventure. From boarding to disembarking at the docks in Cape Town, I felt the sense that sea life does not agree very well with everyone.

Although the sea got the better of me, I enjoyed the moments where I felt that I had the upper hand over the sea. Seeing what scientists do for weeks on a research vessel was really astounding. I have never really seen how samples are collected, analysed and results compiled, but after seeing them at work, I now have the greatest respect and admiration for them. I enjoyed the adventure to a certain extent in that I was able to observe them during the latter part of the journey.

When questioned if they enjoyed being at sea, I got the sense that they really enjoyed their work. What I enjoyed the most was when I had to do an observation. With all the gadgets and computers, I got to see and experience what these guys go through on a research trip. I found the journey very educational, informative and enjoyable.

Further opportunities for education outreach

About 120 learners from schools in Grahamstown were invited to attend the launch. The learners explored the RV Algoa, where they interacted with various scientists and learnt more about the scientists' work at sea.

By Thomas Mtontsi, Hannah Raven, Gilbert Musonah and Denvor Bowers