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Behind the Scenes at Ocean Life Education

They say never work with children or animals – but Richard Coward is happy to do both. The director of Ocean Life Education has spent the past 13 years combining two of his passions – protecting marine life and inspiring young minds. But the time spent in classrooms, early learning centres and at community events makes up only a fraction of the working day for Richard and his team of educators.

The day usually starts before first light, checking on the crew of animal ambassadors to make sure they are healthy and raring to go on an adventure. The creatures are chosen on a rotational basis to ensure they receive rest days between their public appearances, minimising fatigue. Bags of oxygenated water are filled to provide a safe and comfortable space inside the travel tubs which will become their home for their time on the road.

Apart from the cargo of animals, the van is loaded with extra salt water, games, artefacts, toys and books depending on the programs booked for the day. Details are checked and notes read through to make sure the educator is as prepared as possible for the day ahead.
Then they join the line-up of commuters, criss-crossing South East Queensland as they slowly progress towards their first show of the day.

Unpacking the animals and exhibits is an artform in itself, with tubs carefully stacked to limit the numbers of trips back and forwards. We allow half an hour to set up, giving the animals new water so they can breathe easily while on display. We arrange them in a user-friendly way that allows enthusiastic little participants ample room to feel their way around our very tactile exhibits. Children wash their hands without soap to ensure no chemicals or sunscreen residue is passed onto our animals.

We normally present multiple sessions at any one location, quickly re-setting between shows to make it fresh for the new group. Pack up time takes another half hour as water is changed again to prepare the animals to move to a new location where we repeat the whole process.
When the final program is over and everything secured in the van, we head home to return our animal ambassadors to their tanks and begin the feeding regime. We have half a dozen different food sources to distribute to our creatures, their diets carefully regulated to mimic conditions in the wild.

On days when we don’t have displays to set up, we maintain our tanks, receiving 1,500 litres of ocean water every couple of weeks which we store and use when needed.
Even though our animals may only be on display for short periods in the day, a lot goes into keeping them happy and healthy. But we know all the cleaning, all the prep work and all the sitting in traffic is worth it if it helps the next generation learn to love, appreciate and protect our waterways.

Our Watery World

When your world is the water, keeping you healthy and out of harm’s way has a few added challenges – especially if you are constantly on the go.

Our animal ambassadors cover thousands of kilometres every year to help share the need for ocean conservation and highlight the problems caused by the modern disposable lifestyle.

And while many of you may have met them in their display tubs, between engagements their time is spent luxuriating in a first-class facility designed to ensure their comfort and well-being.

Every week, salt water is shipped into storage containers in our home-based aquarium, guaranteeing a fresh supply for our animals.  Water quality is vital when you eat, breathe and sleep in it.

Food is also of an extremely high standard and varies according to individual dietary needs.  The turtles like pellets, our recently hatched baby banded bamboo sharks prefer prawns and our sea cucumbers happily vacuum up any discarded snacks that fall to the bottom.

We have 15 large tanks (or suites!) spread across two locations.  While a lot of our spare time is spent maintaining all the pumps, lights and filtration systems, our sea stars very kindly assist in keeping the glass pristine by devouring any algae build-up.

And while we don’t have any favourites amongst our animal ambassadors, it’s fair to say some are a little more high maintenance than others.

When they’re not travelling to schools, early learning centres or events, our fresh water turtles Rainbow, Chip and Dale have non-stop hydrotherapy in their purpose-built homes.

Every so often, though, there is a need for spa treatments – in particular, a regular manicure to keep their claws trim and not quite so terrifying!

Our menagerie of marine animals is like an extended family to us and we do everything we can to ensure they stay healthy and happy so they can continue their vital role of education through interaction.

Seriously Fun Science Week

20170822_092759_resized_1 (003)Science Week was all about getting hands on experience – especially for participants in Ocean Life Education’s Marine Incursion programs.

More than a thousand children got up close and personal with our colourful marine creatures during a busy week of visits to early learning centres, schools and Bunnings hardware stores in the week of August 12-20.

Director of Education at Ocean Life Richard Coward says it’s the personal touch that helps to establish that lifetime bond between children and nature.

“Most children have good background knowledge about our animals and the impact we all have on the environment but they enjoyed learning new facts about our creatures, and understanding more through touching them, which enhances their desire to protect the natural marine environment.”

And you never know, through stroking a stripy tropical sea cucumber, the seed may have been sown in some young minds to seek out a career in science as an ecologist or marine biologist.

We’re already taking bookings for our marine incursion programs for next year’s Science Week – we have presentations suitable for all age groups, each one encouraging a greater respect for our natural world.

If your Science Week was a bit of a fizzer this year don’t fret, because it’s never too late to inspire the next generation of conservationists – Ocean Life Education’s Marine Life Incursion programs are available to visit your centre all year round.