The Two Oceans Aquarium Foundation welcomes Dr Judy Mann-Lang as its newly appointed Executive – Strategic Projects. She will be overseeing research and adult training programmes for the Aquarium Foundation. Until recently, Judy was the Conservation Strategist for the South African Association for Marine Biological Research (SAAMBR) in Durban. She is a well-known and well-respected figure within marine conservation education and communication circles and has a career spanning 30 years.
Dr Mann-Lang holds several degrees including a Doctorate in Philosophy from the School of Business at the University of Queensland in Australia. Her thesis explored the influence of culture on learning experiences at an aquarium. Judy’s tertiary education started with a Bachelor of Science in Zoology and Microbiology, which she obtained in 1989 from Rhodes University in Grahamstown. She also holds an Honours degree in Ichthyology and a Master of Science in Ichthyology from the same university.
Judy’s impressive working career kicked off in 1992 when she was appointed Manager of the Sea World Education Centre for SAAMBR in Durban. Over the years, she has served on several boards and is currently the President-Elect of the International Zoo Educators board and serves on the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums Council, to name a few. She has also won several awards including the 2016 WESSA 90 Lifetime Conservation Achiever Award, the 2016 PAAZA Conservation Award, and the 1999 Marine and Coastal Communicator of the Year Award.
When asked what inspires her, Judy said: “The amazing biodiversity and resilience of the ocean inspires me. And I am inspired by the incredible people who work tirelessly to care for the ocean – in so many different ways.” She is encouraged to see that people are increasingly understanding the critical link between the wellbeing of humans and the health of the ocean. “When I started in marine education and research in 1992, people working on ocean conservation were thought to be a little strange. It was a ‘nice’ thing to do, but certainly not essential work. Now we know better.”
Judy believes that the role of the Two Oceans Aquarium Foundation, and other organisations undertaking similar work, is to inspire people to care for the ocean as well as to explore the ocean and to take action to support ocean health. “I would also like people to know that it’s not all gloom and doom – we do exciting work in an amazing environment and we are making a positive difference. And together we can achieve so much more.”
Ultimately, her goal is to see a healthy and abundant ocean supporting people, and she believes that this can be achieved through effective ocean management. This type of management requires a complex network of stakeholders to all work together across multiple sectors of society. “These types of collaborations require humility, a willingness to collaborate and compromise, open communication and the ability to look for the common good. A deep understanding of the biophysical limits of the ocean and the risks of over exploitation is also needed. I see many pockets of hope around our coast – communities working together for the good of people and the ocean – and these pockets make me positive about the future.”
She illustrates her optimism for the future of the ocean by recounting the story of the seventy-four seabream. “This fish is endemic to South Africa. It lives along the east coast. It was fished to commercial extinction in the 1960s. In 1998 strict regulations to protect the species were implemented. The species is now showing signs of recovery. This fish gives me hope and shows that, if we give the ocean a chance and the space to recover, it can and will.”
Judy has been the driving force behind the establishment of the first official Marine Protected Areas Day which was celebrated on 1 August 2021. Lead by her vision and passion a number of organisations, including the Two Oceans Aquarium, banded together to celebrate MPA Day and to create awareness, not only locally, but also internationally. Under her leadership, the MPA Alliance hopes to grow this day into an internationally recognised event. Judy believes that South Africa’s new Marine Protected Areas are a sign of hope for the ocean, along with initiatives like 30×30 and Reverse the Red.
“Together we can achieve so much more. So join us – become ocean ambassadors – become our real SEA STARS! Each of us can take action and together we are making a difference.”