The 2017 conference of the Marine and Coastal Educators Network (MCEN) was held from 15 to 20 January in KwaZulu-Natal. We were 30 delegates from different provinces in South Africa and we started off at the Ushaka Sea World Education Centre in Durban.
After the welcome on 15 January, the programme began with a pollution awareness activity that can be done with any age group to show how small pieces of plastic can destroy our natural environment. It was a very hot day in Durban when we arrived, so the opportunity to snorkel in one of the Ushaka Sea World Aquarium’s tanks was very welcome, especially as it was with different sea creatures , including sharks. To me that was an experience of a lifetime. Then we were divided into teams and went on a treasure hunt through the aquarium, learning a lot about different sea animals. After the treasure hunt came the part of the conference I will never forget: we slept in the aquarium, in front of big tanks containing various sea animals.
On Monday the 16th we had a few presentations in the morning at the Ushaka education centre and then at about 10 am we set off for Cape Vidal, where we were going to spend the remaining three days of the conference. On the way the bus stopped at different places, like Umlalazi Nature Reserve where Wendy Taylor, a volunteer, took us around the mangrove forest. We stopped again at the mouth of the St Lucia estuary. After arriving at Cape Vidal we had dinner.
Tuesday the 17th started with more presentations and activities that included a game called ‘Fishing co-op’ devised by Arno Munro, the chairperson of MCEN. This was one of the best activities that we enjoyed at the conference and we even played it during our free time late at night.
For the afternoon outing we went to Mission Rocks to explore the rocky shore – another great experience as we saw sea life that is different from what we have in Cape Town. We also visited Catalina Bay. In the evening we all took part in a competition in which each team was given ingredients like chicken, veggies and spices and we had to cook our own dinner in the form of Durban bunny chow.
The next day we started with presentations again and then after lunch we went on a boat trip on the Santa Lucia to view hippos, birds and other animals. On our way back to Cape Vidal we came across more animals, like elephants, rhinos, kudus and waterbuck, along the road.
On Thursday the 19th, the last day of the conference, we had a few presentations in the morning and then travelled to Ballito after lunch. When we arrived we had free time to relax before preparing for the conference’s gala dinner. My colleague Eleanor was chosen as the winner of the award for the best-dressed guest. The gala dinner was amazing – everybody enjoyed it!