Explorer and author Riaan Manser guides a matric class in our impact on the planet and how we can make a sea change.

Riaan Manser always preferred to take the scenic route and to do so under his own steam. It is close to twenty years since he cycled around Africa then met uTata Madiba – whose parting words were that he should not rest on his laurels. He took the advice.

He’s in his third year of the Matrics in Antarctica Project; taking five matric pupils to Antarctica to see first hand what our consumer choices do to the planet. Before their big voyage he took them to a far warmer neck of the woods, Mauritius, which is facing its own challenges.

Also joining was Nick Hamman, 5FM DJ and voice of The Insider SA, to share in some of the amazing environment experiments with the party.

“Experiencing Mauritius beyond the postcard gave us the opportunity to learn about the inner works of the country, to learn about the people, the places and things that happen in a place that is so much more complicated than you first give it credit for and so much more exciting, rich and diverse in culture and conservation and all the different stories that we came to find, and I feel a lot richer for it,” explains Nick. 

As a boy, Riaan was in foster care until taken in by his school principal Margareth Wilson. In turn, he’s taken the next generation under his wing.

The group of matriculants were selected from Gauteng, the Free State and from the Western Cape. And the seven-day environmental education project provided the young group with an opportunity to find fresh solutions to the problems being faced.

Riaan’s life testifies “there is an ocean between saying and doing” something. An idea not lost on everyday Mauritians whose livelihoods were threatened by an oil spill in these waters. Faced with devastated coral reefs, they decided the solution lay in their hands.

Adventurer and Author Riaan Manser

“The programme started back in 2018 with a collaboration with The University of Mauritius. During Covid there was no activity as everything was shut down and during this time we actually noticed that the coral has actually grown faster and we have restored 3000 square meters of coral around this region which is the benefit of everyone,” shares Ali ABdoool, Sustainability Manager at Sun Resorts.

He adds, “We engage with the community and local fisherman which we call the local gardeners. The local community works with us as they take the coral and go and plant it again with a marine biologist.”

Coral reefs are some of the most diverse and valuable ecosystems on Earth. They’re home to a quarter of the ocean’s marine life, generate clean air and protect vulnerable coastlines from erosion, flooding and storms.

“For us to actually hear about this concept of coral farming – imagine. We get told by people that coral reefs are getting destroyed, there’s coral bleaching and there’s a problem in many reefs and oceans globally when it’s related to coral growth and the team with the University of Port Louis are finding solutions,” states Riaan. 

For helping to farm coral which could last centuries, certificates are nice but for Delecia Davids the bigger picture is even better.

“Community was a big theme that stood out for me this week… I think that’s the lesson that we can take away back to South Africa, of how a community can stand up and can come together after a crisis,” shares Delecia, Lecturer at Stellenbosch University.

This expedition continues what Riaan told himself on his first adventure. That if he comes back with great stories to tell his grandchildren, it will be enough. Those following his lead are achieving that and so much more.

“It was beautiful and important to see the human behind the environmental crisis, and the human behind the response to this crisis. Being exposed to the Mauritian people and their experiences was really special,” added Delecia. 

“I feel very strongly and passionately that we need programmes like this where children and students get to learn immersively. I think I’ve seen change in all of these young people first hand over the course of this past week as they’ve been exposed to the world in a new way and have been encouraged to think about it in ways that they previously maybe haven’t,” says Nick.  

Here’s to the class of 2022 returning here in 2052 to a blossoming reef.

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