I have been volunteering at the Two Oceans Aquarium in the V&A Waterfront, Cape Town for about three months now and all I can say is wow, what a fantastic experience. I can see why it is such a popular tourist attraction. I had to take part in a seven week training course every Saturday morning and pass the weekly test that was set. I luckily passed with flying colours and so began the start of my amazing journey.
My first shift started at the microscope section, the one place where you can see things you never imagined possible, It is definitely worth swinging by just to see incredible and fascinating things that you could never see with the naked eye.
Its a wonderful feeling to be able to zoom in on a dish that looks like its filled with just water only to see the many baby jellyfish starting out life or getting a close up on a strawberry anemone and seeing the tentacles hard at work trying to catch the microscopic morsels we just put in for them.
I then moved onto working at the touch pool which is great for the whole family. Here people get the opportunity to touch, feel and see real marine life close up. The Hermit Crabs and Starfish are always a popular choice among the children but there is so much in there to interact with. You feel a great sense of achievement telling people about all the creatures in the touch pool and seeing the joy and surprise on their faces when they touch them.
Since then I have been working behind the scenes. It may sound boring but this is where the magic happens. I started out making sure the tanks were clean and presentable before the aquarium opened and feeding some of our fishy friends.
Some say that they think it would be mundane, but imagine sitting above the Giant Spider Crab tank watching these beautiful slow moving creatures getting on with their daily routines, or grabbing a juicy prawn and holding it out to the Octopus to munch on.
Another favourite of mine was letting a Sting Ray swim over my hand while giving it a piece of squid to eat. These are but a few of the many very exciting experiences I have been fortunate to have had.
There is of course the work that some volunteers dread, I on the other hand jumped straight in without hesitation. Working in the kitchen preparing all the food for our large exhibits like the kelp forest and predator tank.
This is where you really get your hands dirty, I followed a list of instructions giving the amounts of certain food for particular tanks or fish and then started gutting Squid, dicing up Redbait, Pilchards, Hake and crushing Muscles. It sounds horrendous but its really quite an experience. Its not something i ever imagined I would do or could manage doing without feeling ill, but you get used to it very quickly.
Then I came across Canneloni’s name on the list, our beautiful Green Sea Turtle who has been in quarantine after an unfortunate run in with one of our Ragged Tooth Sharks at lunch time! I prepared her food and went out to find her temporary location.
She is so friendly and loves a good scratch on her shell. We are training her to come into a cage to feed so that when she goes back to the predator tank, she cant get bullied while trying to eat again! This has been the best part for me so far whilst volunteering at the Two Oceans Aquarium and every weekend I spend a bit of time with her, she is truly out of this world.
My next shift was slightly different, I was still working behind the scenes but working in different areas. Climbing on ladders putting sea lettuce onto the sea urchins in the eel tank for them to eat, Holding my hand in the water, full of fish flakes for our little Clown Fish, or nemo’s as most call them, to take from me. Its a great feeling when they are nibbling on your hands to get the last scraps of food from you.
Feeding the Lion Fish was also an experience, they gulp and expel so much air when they surface. I turned away from the tank for a second, when I looked back I got a jet of water straight in my face… I wasn’t warned about them spitting water at me!
Lets not forget about the penguins or the various critters and creatures like snakes, frogs, giant snails and crickets etc. that we have lurking in there too.
There is so much to see, dive feeds to watch, a fantastic restaurant to stop and have lunch at and various entertainment for the kids. You are sure to walk out of the aquarium with not only a huge smile on your face but you are guaranteed to learn something new and fascinating about the two oceans surrounding our beautiful coastline.
I on the other hand look forward to my next shift and the many interesting things I will get up to and discover.
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