UKZN Academic Gets Award for Best Presentation at Marine and Coastal Educators ConferenceGeneral

Dr Deborah Robertson-Andersson presenting at the MCEN Conference.Dr Deborah Robertson-Andersson presenting at the MCEN Conference.

A UKZN scientist and academic received the award for the best presentation at the annual Conference of the Marine and Coastal Educators Network (MCEN) held in Durban.

She is Dr Deborah Robertson-Andersson of the Marine Biology, Aquaculture, Conservation Education and Ecophysiology (MACE) laboratory in the School of Life Sciences.

Robertson-Andersson’s presentation at the Conference, themed “Our Changing Coasts”, was titled: “Booms, Bins and Bags: the B3 solution to the BIGA problem”.

The presentation’s focus was on the role marine and conservation educators play in teaching citizens not to litter as well as innovative solutions to help ensure a marine environment that is healthy, sustainable and free from plastic pollution. This is in response to the still pervasive problem of litter on Durban’s beaches and in its marine ecosystems.

‘We still have this problem because, despite having Books, Information and General knowledge, we have trouble Acting, hence the “BIGA” problem,’ explained Robertson-Andersson.

The thought of knowledge simply gathering dust instead of being applied led to the MACE Laboratory undertaking a knowledge transfer study of aquaculture research to aquaculture farmers in KwaZulu-Natal.

‘The results were shocking,’ said Robertson-Andersson. ‘Despite researchers and funders investing resources in creating manuals to translate the latest advancements in scientific research for aquaculture farmers, not one farmer surveyed had read the information.  Universities have traditionally been seen as knowledge generators, but what good is a generator without its electrical network to transmit the message to the users to help them turn on their light bulbs?’

Robertson-Andersson wanted her presentation to trigger a conversation between educators and scientists within the marine and conservation education fields with the aim of combating this crisis through research, education and action.

‘With the worrying problem of plastic pollution on South Africa’s beaches in the news recently, we need everyone working in this field to understand the subject and help transfer this knowledge to the public,’ she said.

The Conference extended beyond simply academic presentations with delegates spending a night at the uShaka Sea World Aquarium among the fish, and also exploring the iSimangaliso Wetland Park ecosystem for three days.

Comments from facilitators and other delegates emphasised the importance of collaboration between scientists and marine educators as they contribute their expertise in their fields, while educators contribute presentation skills for non-academic audiences.

Christine Cuénod