Conservation conversations at Plett Ocean Festival’s Marine Science Symposium


The three-day Marine Science Symposium held this past weekend at the Beacon Island Resort encouraged  interesting conservation conversations between symposium attendees and speakers brought together from across the country. Attendees included university professors, marine rangers, researchers and passionate naturalists .

Plett Ocean Festival events team: Brayley Booysen, Andisiwe Nonkasana and Luck Lottering by Brendon Morris

The symposium is the anchor event of the winter-based Plett Ocean Festival, which will continue through to the 9th July in Plettenberg Bay, presenting 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.  

Plett Wedge Beach by Keegan Pierre Jordaan

As Prof. Amanda Lombard pointed out in her presentation about the importance of marine protected areas, the ocean produces most of the earth’s oxygen and recycles 30% of our carbon dioxide; there really is no doubt that we are a blue planet and it is encouraging to learn that the South African government proclaimed 20 new offshore marine protected areas in 2019, increasing SA’s protected mainland from 0.4% to 5%, an encouraging step. 

However, marine scientists admit that they are still learning and are far from having all the answers: they are still discovering genetic differences in species, identifying reasons for mass strandings and looking at data-driven results to understand population declines.  Because, in understanding, we can do better to conserve and preserve our marine ecosystems. 

“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.

A theme that came across in multiple presentations is that of collaboration: these researchers and scientists work together – sharing data and results – and working with various organisations to better understand our marine world. Evidenced in Plett, local organisations such as Nature’s Valley Trust, ORCA Foundation, NSRI, the Plett Animal Stranding Network and the Plett Shark Action Group facilitate bringing together individuals and businesses that, alone could do a limited amount, but together are making huge strides in conservation, policy and research. And when they share those results – far from being tall tales – they are firmly rooted in research and evidence, much to the interest of those attending the symposium. 

Still more interesting is the role that every beach and ocean enthusiast can contribute to this research through citizen science by reporting their seaside findings to conservation organisations or through apps like Elmo Africa to aid our marine scientists in collecting data. We can all be a part of working towards solutions for our global and local marine problems. A wonderful example of science and citizen science working hand-in-hand was Dr. Chantel Elston’s symposium story of discovering South Africa’s first stingray nursery in the Keurbooms Estuary or how social media has helped Dr. Alison Towner of Dyer Island Trust – who presented to a sold-out venue – to track the two shark-predating orcas, Port and Starboard. Without our interest, collaboration, and participation in marine conservation, scientists may never get to the bottom of some of our most pressing oceanic questions. 

Symposium MC and speaker, Zandile Ndhlovu aka the Black Mermaid 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.” Imagine the possibilities if everyone was as passionate about the ocean as Ndhlovu, a filmmaker, explorer, author, TEDx speaker and South Africa’s first black African freediving instructor.  In Plett, we are privileged to enjoy the ocean every day, while being aware of the responsibilities that we have to protect it, and to pass these enjoyments and responsibilities on to the next generation so that they may do better and make wiser choices to protect the lifeblood of our planet. 


Please visit the Special Offers page on the Plett Tourism website for accommodation, restaurant, and activity specials during the Plett Ocean Festival. 

The 2023 Plett Ocean Festival is scheduled for 30 June – 9 July 2023, and tickets are available here.

For more information about the line-up of events, view the programme here.

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