Classroom on the sea

Clarence Daniels showing off some of the photos taken on his cellphone during the programme.

Hout Bay High School was one of only two high schools in the Western Cape to attend a research programme on board the SA Agulhas II with postgraduate university and technikon students from across South Africa, last month.

Grade 10 pupil Clarence Daniels exchanged his school books for test tubes and spent 10 days networking with specialist marine scientists, attending lectures, participating in hands-on deck activities as well as collecting and analysing data.

The South African Environmental Observation Network (SAEON) invited the school to attend the SEAmester programme – a product of Professor Isabelle Ansorge, the head of UCT’s the Oceanography Department.

The programme’s aim was to introduce marine science as an applied and cross-disciplinary field to interested students and to collect information about the ocean’s physical and ecological response to climate change.

Joining Clarence on the trip was Naomi Julius, science teacher for Grades 8, 10, 11 and 12 at Hout Bay High school.

She said the school was grateful to be part of the programme with 40 students from 15 universities.

“It was great to interact with the other students and very interesting to see the research they were involved with, such as looking at the physical and chemical properties of the sea and sea life. I can’t wait to incorporate my experience in my lessons and use it to inspire other pupils” she said.

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Clarence said he had worked in a team responsible for research and got to analyse nitrate and phosphate samples by placing them into a spectrometer.

“We also looked at phytoplankton contents and sea nutrients, and it was very exciting. We took samples from the sea, analysed them and recorded the data,” he said.

The SA Agulhas II, an icebreaking polar supply and research ship, departed from the V&A Waterfront’s east peer on Tuesday July 5 and made its way along the coast to East London.

The students also helped to record data for the the Agulhas System Current Array (ASCA), an international oceanographic project running in parallel to SEAmester. It monitors heat, volume and other conditions in the Agulhas current, which runs along the east coast of South Africa and plays a key role in regional climate and biodiversity.

Although there were no shore stops, the vessel made several stops in the ocean to collect samples and data.

Professor Ansorge said it was very exciting to see the project that she had been working on for the past three years come to life.

“It was definitely a life changing experience for the students, and we had a great mix of students who each had different strengths. Clarence was extremely motivated and interacted very well with all the other students,” she said.

Ms Julius said the trip ended with movies made by the students of their experience.

“It was great to see how they worked together and the movies they produced were fantastic,” she said.