2020 Vision | Maryke Musson

2020 Vision | Maryke Musson

20 Questions for Maritime Leaders in Africa

Name and Surname: Maryke Musson

Organisation: Two Oceans Aquarium Education Foundation

Current Position: Chief Executive Officer

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1. What qualifications do you have and from which institutions?

I completed bachelor of science degrees in a few specialist areas including zoology, marine biology, psychology, medical physiology and electrophysiology. I followed this up with post-graduate studies in Aquaculture, and Ichthyology and Fisheries Sciences. I studied at UCT, UNISA, UWC and finally Rhodes University.

2. How long have you been working in the marine industry?

My first paid job was at the Two Oceans Aquarium in 1995, the year it opened. So it has been 25 incredible years in marine science, marine innovation and aquaculture, and marine conservation, research and education.

3. Are you a member of any professional associations? 
  • Association of Zoos and Aquariums;
  • Aquaculture Association of Southern Africa;
  • Parasitological Society of Southern Africa;
  • World Aquaculture Society;
  • Southern African Society for Aquatic Scientists.
4. How many years are you from retirement?

Hopefully at least 20 (but not planning on retiring and hoping to live and work until I am 100)

5. How would you describe your leadership style?

I would like to believe that I am a passionate motivator. I identify strengths in people and find ways to make those strengths contribute to increasing positive impact. I try and lead by example, inspiring staff to learn more, be more, do more and achieve more with a clear purpose. I use a positive attitude, enthusiasm and energy to encourage all to look for solutions. Adaptability is a very important skill that I try and grow within my colleagues. I would like to think that I support ideas and actions that will benefit staff and our objectives. I try to ensure that my actions, my outlook to life and my work, inspire and motivate my team to follow their passion and always make a difference while being kind, respectful and mindful of the environment and people.  

6. What motivates/drives you in your daily work life?

I love what I do and believe that we can make a difference. To the Ocean and to People. I know that through our actions we can connect all people to their natural environment and the ocean – and this will benefit not only the environment, but people too. I am so fortunate to work with marine animals and with people and I see every day how the ocean, and marine animals motivate people to care more, to commit and to change behaviours which will benefit the ocean and communities.

I am motivated by the fact that I can make a difference.

7. What skill (business or pleasure) would you still like to master?

Oh wow, there are so many. Professionally I would like to speak a few more languages. I am currently busy studying a bit of French again, but I would love to be able to speak a few more of our official languages. I would also like to increase my understanding of business. A NPO is ultimately a business for good – we need to be efficient, strategic and ensure sustainable funding to be able to increase our impact. We need to make surplus to grow impact. This will help our beneficiaries, who are all the children and citizens of South Africa – our future.

I would also love to be a good surfer – good enough to surf really big waves.  It looks absolutely exhilarating – experiencing the power of the ocean at high speed on the face of a wave must be amazing.

8. Have you spent any time at sea during your career?

I spent a few weeks on the RV Welwitchia off Namibia and Angola looking for king crabs. The sea was on its head – and it was a real challenge setting crab pots. This was for an annual stock assessment for the Namibian Sea Fisheries Department. I also spent a bit of time on the Sardinops collecting snoek for the Aquarium. I did a week trip on the RV Caledonian Star – which was turned into an Eco-tourism vessel and we travelled from Cape Town to Maputo sharing our wonderful coastline and diverse marine ecosystem with about 100 marine enthusiasts. In between I spent a lot of time on RIB’s for diving. As a Commercial Class IV diver I undertook various underwater surveys and collections.

9. What is your outlook for marine conservation and tourism sector in 2020?

The tourism industry has completely changed within the last two weeks – from being a growing industry to coming to a sudden standstill. What I have noticed though is that more and more tourists are very aware and supportive of conservation. They want to support ethical tourism and they want to contribute to real conservation efforts. In fact, many tourists want to partake, hands-on, in marine conservation programmes. Tourisms offers the opportunity to grow awareness around conservation themes and to secure funds. Tourists want to make a meaningful difference. With such an increase in awareness around conservation, we are perfectly positioned to grow conservation efforts and craft beautiful stories of hope and care that will inspire more people to care about the ocean.

10. What is your outlook for Two Oceans Aquarium in 2020?

We have launched the Foundation, which is the Non-profit and Public Benefit partner of the Two Oceans Aquarium, which has an incredible history of 25 years of sharing the ocean with all. The Foundation has taken on all the non-profit activities and, with the right support, we will be able to increase our impact – hopefully significantly. In 2019 we managed to reach over 110,000 children through our various educational programmes. With 12 million learners in the South African education system – we have so many children to still inspire to love the planet and make a difference. We are hoping that we will contribute to inspiring a generation of young adults who will be environmentally mindful in everything they do. We are currently offering Marine Sciences at six high schools as a core subject. We will expand on this – not just to prepare learners for careers in the marine industry, but to inform all children about the ocean.

The Aquarium is a magical place – where you get a little glimpse of this incredible underwater world. So few people get the opportunity to witness what is under the surface of the ocean: this mass of water that covers 70% of the planet. How can we expect people to care about the ocean if they do not know it? We will continue to connect people to the ocean.

11. What geographical markets do visitors to the Aquarium represent and is there an overwhelming majority of either local or international visitors?

To date we have seen between 40 – 50%  of our visitors from outside of South Africa. We thus have a large international market, but also a large local market and we have an amazing membership programme with an annual pass – so we see a lot of local Cape Townians who visit regularly as they love the Aquarium and we ensure that they always see something new when they visit.

12. What are the current challenges facing the marine conservation industry (please exclude COVID-19 or include as an addition to other challenges)?

Finding the balance. The ocean, for thousands of years, has provided for so many. This has not been sustainable due to major technical and technological advances. Our fishing methods, boats and demands have increased to an extent where the ocean cannot supply. That is impacting everybody, from small-scale fishers to consumers to large fishing companies and of course the ocean. By managing and enforcing the sustainable use of marine resources, we should find that balance. This will allow for well-managed fisheries to grow that consider the sustainability of the species and the environment. The impact of our actions must be monitored, mitigated and managed. The good thing is that never before have we been this aware of our impact, and this determined to conserve. People really do care. I see that every single day.

13. How should we be addressing these challenges during 2020?

It is all about information. We do incredible research in this country, and we need to somehow relate this information to the public, to corporates, to fishers, to environmentalists – so that we can make use of the correct information to make well supported decisions. I feel that the true blue economy – saving the ocean while also meeting socio-economic needs – is possible. People can change behaviours when they know and understand and therefore care about their environment. We need to do this with a positive attitude as well. We can win over conservation support through showing and sharing how beautiful, how rich and diverse, but also how fragile this environment is. Mapping out the ocean, and the different uses of the ocean – by people and marine organisms, will inform decision makers on how to find that balance and how to manage it. I am very hopeful. 

14. How is the Aquarium embracing the Fourth Industrial Revolution and disruptive technologies in its operation as well as its displays?

This is an interesting one because generally people are overwhelmed by technological choices in their everyday lives, so the Aquarium should be seen and experienced as a space where you can re-connect with nature without depending on high tech. You can see natural environments and ocean animals. The ocean has such a calming effect on most – and we want to remind people that nature is still real and still exists.

At the same time we need to also keep up with Generation Z, who are digital natives. They have never lived without technology, yet they have also shown that they care deeply about the environment – so we are hoping that this generation will find technological advances to protect the ocean. For our education offerings in the Foundation we are currently developing more and more eLearning options.

With our approved Marine Sciences curriculum, learners can now take Marine Sciences as a Gr 10 – 12 core subject. This is incredibly exciting. Six schools in the Western Cape offer Marine Sciences already, and we are hoping that by 2021 we will have an eLearning option available to make it accessible to many more learners country wide. This course will contribute to this generation making responsible decisions that will have a positive impact on the environment.

We will develop more and more online and digital content to remain relevant in the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Disruptive technologies can definitely contribute to saving our planet without disconnecting people from the natural world.

15. What changes do you anticipate in this sector of industry over the next two decades?

I am hoping that any changes will be solutions. We need solutions for plastic pollution – we cannot accept that our ocean might have more plastic than fish within the next three decades. We need to find solutions to manage our fishing stocks better to ensure we have healthy fisheries for many years to come. We need to make changes to ensure that our impact on the ocean is minimised, that we reconnect and re-ocean. We need to protect enough areas to act as nurseries and buffer zones – it has proven to be so successful.

Humans are so dependent on the ocean, and coastal communities will take more responsibility of their livelihoods when given the right information. I do believe that aquaculture will continue to grow. This must be responsible and sustainable aquaculture – well-regulated` and well mananged – as the ocean cannot continue to provide at the required demand levels. Certifications such as MSC and ASC will play critical roles to ensure that fisheries and aquaculture work towards a sustainable future for all. We need to all be people of the sea. We will protect what we love.

16. How relevant and effective do you think strategies such as Operation Phakisa, AIMS 50 and the African Maritime Decade are to help progress the continent’s Blue Economies and marine conservation?

I think that the intention of all these strategies was to find that balance between need, use, give and care. The implementation of such complexity has been a challenge. To unlock the potential of the ocean we need to know exactly what is in it: where are the best ‘harvest zones’ and where are the best conservation areas. That means, through these initiatives and strategies, all the sectors need to align their objectives and work towards the same goal – a healthy ocean. A healthy ocean can provide resources and enjoyment and a safe environment for its inhabitants. Therefore, economists, fishers, researchers, conservationists, innovators and influencers need to define that shared goal and work towards it together. To date I have not experienced an agreed-on approach and plan to achieve a true long term secure blue economy. It is good that the African Union recognised it as a priority.

17. How can African countries collaborate to collectively benefit from the Blue Economy?

Due to climate change fish stocks have moved around quite a bit. African countries thus need to communicate much better and again share common goals and objectives if collectively we all want to benefit long-term from the ocean. Africa has a tremendous coastline – about 26,000 km of coastline and its landmass is much smaller than its waterbodies and ocean. By sharing data, knowledge and plans a collaborative approach can be utilised to grow and develop the blue economy around this incredible coastline.

18. If you could have a superhero power, what would it be?

There are so many I would love to have: such as holding my breath for very very long, to communicate with underwater animals; to make plastic in the ocean vanish or to have the ability to always say the right thing that will motivate people to follow the rules and make a difference.

BUT, I do think that if I had to choose just one, I would love to see into the future – to have crystal clear vision of what is to come, so that I can identify potential disasters and help steer this mother ship of ours into a better direction where we will not self-destruct, but support a society where people and the environment matter more than money.

19. What would you like your legacy in the industry to be?

I am hoping to really make a difference through informing and inspiring in order to increase impact. I would like every single child to have the opportunity to learn about the environment; to have the opportunity to be amazed by the magical underwater world, and to have the opportunity to make a difference. I already see our new generation of young marine scientists. They are enthusiastic and amazed and inspired to learn more and impact more.

These are youngsters who did not grow up next to the ocean, who did not know the ocean – but through fantastic mentoring, through information and inspiration, this group of young Africans are determined to make a difference and to save our ocean. This is going to inspire so many kids who will see that they too can make a difference and love the ocean and care for animals. We live in an incredibly exciting era where impact is possible.

20. Please nominate another maritime leader (from the African continent) that you would like us to include in our 2020 Vision series.  

Dr. Cleeve Robertson (CEO) and his team at the NSRI. Their dedication to saving lives at sea is incredible and their current focus on drowning prevention and education will contribute to a growing citizens who are ocean safety aware.



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