Plett Ocean Festival 2023: Citizen Science Meet Family Fun


Following strong themes of citizen science, collaboration and fostering a love of the ocean at the Marine Science Symposium, the Plett Ocean Festival continued with a week of excursions and activities offering a treasure trove of fun family activations to enhance marine understanding and appreciation.

Visitors were encouraged to take a deeper dive beneath the blue waters and explore along the beautiful coastline of Plettenberg Bay. The Plett Ocean Festival, including the three-day marine science symposium, took place from 30 June – 9 July and included musical collaborations with exquisite whale song, rocky shore excursions, film screenings and a reef cleanup to fully appreciate our place in a sustainable blue ocean economy.

The festival is anchored by the three-day Marine Science Symposium held at the Beacon Island Resort which encouraged interesting conservation conversations between symposium attendees and knowledgeable speakers brought together from across the country. Attendees included university professors, marine rangers, researchers and passionate naturalists . Plett Tourism’s general manager and festival organiser, Cindy Wilson-Trollip put together a sterling programme which saw a 10% increase in symposium ticket sales from the festival’s launch in 2022, “Our aim is to foster an ethos of conservation of our natural environment, not just in Plettenberg Bay;  people need access to the facts and research that scientists who are so dedicated and committed to, present.

Plett Ocean Festival events team: Brayley Booysen, Andisiwe Nonkasana, Cindy Wilson-Trollip and Luke Lottering by Brendon Morris
Reef Cleanup scuba divers by Pro Dive

Plett Marine Science Symposium aims to make their work accessible to the public; to inspire and hopefully galvanise all citizens to be active conservationists.” Topics included a diverse range of marine-themed topics from marine protected areas and our endangered Knysna seahorse to orcas hunting sharks and camera-carrying penguins – the topics were entertaining, informative and varied.

Dr. Chantel Elston, who presented at the marine science symposium on rays on the Garden Route, also hosted a shark egg hunt – a fun, fabulous play on the old Easter egg hunt – that encouraged visitors to search the shoreline and rock pools of Nature’s Valley for shyshark eggs which are then used for shark research. The excursion was enjoyed by visitors of all ages and citizen scientists can take part in this everyday research via the Elmo Africa app, contributing valuable data to the South African Elasmobranch Monitoring’s ongoing project.

Elston said, via Elmo Africa’s Instagram, “A huge thank you to everybody who participated in our shark eggcase hunt today as part of Plett Ocean Festival. Through the collective effort, we found over 100 egg cases which is just phenomenal! All of these wonderful people are helping to save sharks by finding these eggcases! And not just that, it was a lot of fun.”

An exciting new addition to the festival this year brought together the natural music of our resident whales – whale song – recorded by marine scientist Dr. Alejandra Vargas-Fonseca, and South African musicians, James van Minnen and Vuyo Katsha. Along with other local artists, they collaborated to bring music and nature together in wonderful ways and unique locations such as the Vygekraal cave. This was a true feast for the senses with whale song blended with music, a fresh ocean breeze and Plett’s glorious wild side as a backdrop.

Pelagic Birding Trip with Discover Eden

The fun continued with a scuba dive to clear Plett’s Red Bait Reef of fishing debris, rocky shore excursions, shark education and awareness, and pelagic birding trip guided by Discover Eden’s Mark Brown and CapeNature’s Chanel Visser which saw birders thrilled with the adventure, saying: “Wow! We had an incredible day out at sea this morning, on a pelagic birding trip run as part of the Plett Ocean Festival! We had absolutely insane views of a few albatross species, with Robberg as the backdrop for some great pics.

We managed to rack up 14 species for the trip, including several endangered species Plett is renowned for such as Cape Cormorant, African penguin and Cape Gannet. We also had great views of Shy Albatross, Indian Yellow-nosed Albatross, White-chinned Petrel, Sooty Shearwater, Subantarctic Skua and of course the ubiquitous Kelp Gull. It was quite possibly one of the best trips we have had for albatross encounters off Plett! Ended off with some dolphins too! Thanks to all 10 participants – being fully booked meant we raised some valuable funds to cover some costs for first responders of the Plett Marine Animal Stranding Network!”

Dolphins in the Bay by Alejandra Vargas

Conversations for the 2024 Plett Ocean Festival and Marine Science Symposium have already begun with presenters providing valuable input for this unique festival that aims to bridge the gap between scientists and conservationists and the general, interested public through citizen science. “Thank you for creating an event like this where the barrier between science and citizen science is broken down in such a wonderfully well-organised setting,” commented presenter Dr Deborah Roberston-Andersson of the Sustainable Seas Trust.

And, of course, the general public includes the young people of South Africa. The partnership between Plett’s Adopt-A-Swimmer and the Black Mermaid Foundation once again saw young Bitou swimmers following in the tail-prints of the Black Mermaid, Zandile Ndhlovu herself, as she introduced them to “a whole new world” through snorkelling in the vibrant Keurbooms Estuary with support from Emily Moon River Lodge. Ndhlovu is a freediving instructor, filmmaker, and passionate storyteller who advocates for diversity and inclusion in South Africa’s ocean spaces.

Adopt a Swimmer Black Mermaid Foundation workshop by Julia Evans Daily Maverick

In her presentation at the symposium, she championed the work of everyday citizen scientists and encouraged more diversity in the ocean space, especially for young people saying: “Imagine if they could see what I saw only when I was 28.” For those young people who couldn’t make it to the ocean, Plett Tourism in collaboration with CapeNature and Nature’s Valley Trust took the ocean to the children of Bitou in the form of a series of screenings of the film, Whale Rider, incorporating educational conservation games and a presentation, in Green Valley, Kwanokuthula, Kranshoek, New Horizons and Kurland.

Plett Tourism would like to thank the following participants in the festival for their passionate support and tireless advocacy for Plettenberg Bay as a world-class marine science and oceanic destination:

Wesgro | Bitou Municipality | Natures Valley Trust | Cape Nature | Open Plan Pictures | Plett Shark Spotters | Adopt-A-Swimmer | The Black Mermaid Foundation | Remax Properties | Pro Dive | Elmo Africa | Ocean Marine Outfitters | The Plett Stranding Network | Wild Origins Foraging Journey | Manya Marais Workshop | Discover Eden | Bayview Hotel | Beacon Island Resort | Surf Café | Bitou Municipality community halls – Green Valley, Simunye, Kranshoek and Kurland | Formosa Primary | Pam Golding Properties | Market Square | Emily Moon River Lodge

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