Antarctic adventure awaits 17-year-old African penguin youth ambassador, Keira King

by Tia

Cape Town, November 20, 2023 – The #NotOnOurWatch African penguin survival campaign’s 17-year-old youth ambassador, Keira King, has been chosen as just one of five South African students to fly to Antarctica in December.

“I’m writing an exam today, but I’m just so excited. I did eventually manage to get some sleep after the announcement last night, but I think I’m going to be excited up until I go,’’ King said early on Monday morning from Durban. “The main idea of the Matrics in Antarctica programme is to teach us more about sustainability and let us explore and experience life in one of Earth’s most remote places. When I go, I’m definitely taking my #NOOW youth ambassador t-shirt and it’ll be a bit cold, but I’m going to take photos of me wearing it in Antarctica.’’

King flies out to the Land of Penguins, the world’s southernmost continent, on 6 December, 2023, as part of South African explorer Riaan Manser and Professor Jonathan Jansens’ Antarctic initiative. The project aims to inspire young people, who will finish high school at the end of 2024, to think about how they can make a difference within their communities to offset the effects of climate change and global warming. While African penguins are only found in South Africa and Namibia, Antarctica is home to species including Emperor, Adélie, Gentoo, King and Chinstrap penguins.

King has already shown her deep commitment to the ocean and its endangered species. In 2022, she completed the Robben Island swim in Cape Town, travelling 7.5 kilometres in freezing waters to support the Two Oceans Aquarium Foundation’s Turtle Conservation Centre. Earlier this year, to raise awareness about the fact that endangered African penguins may be extinct by 2035, King trained for three months on a prone board, which you paddle by hand, and made her way from Salmon Bay in Ballito to uShaka pier in Durban in 7 hours and 20 minutes.

In October, King and fellow #NOOW youth ambassador, Sophumelela Qoma, were two of the stars of the #NotOnOurWatch campaign’s biggest ever worldwide waddle on International African Penguin Awareness Day, which involved seven continents, more than 100 organisations and thousands of people.

“We’re so proud of Keira and, with all that she’s already achieved, it was clear that she would be an excellent choice for the Antarctic adventure,’’ said Dr Judy Mann, President of the International Zoo Educators Association, Executive of Strategic Projects at the Two Oceans Aquarium Foundation, and a founder of the #NOOW campaign. “Antarctica’s melting ice sheets tell a sobering tale about global warming, rising sea levels, the threats facing marine life and the ocean that we rely on for the air that we breathe and the food that we eat. It’s going to be up to young people like Kiera and Sophu to inspire the youth to care and to make the changes needed if we’re going to slow down the rapid rise in temperatures and the looming extinction of many species.’’

Since the worldwide waddle, Qoma has also been busy. She launched a foundation to nurture a nature-conscious generation, she was a presenter at the vaunted Sharks and Ray Symposium in Durban, she met the Mayor of Mossel Bay to talk about conservation and she’s been working with and promoting the Plastic Changemakers project. That’s aside from frequent youth outreach talks and being a founder and director of South Africa’s Shark Research Institute.

“With young women like Sophu and Keira, there’s hope that climate change could be arrested and that African penguins could be saved,’’ Dr Mann said.

#NOOW’s worldwide waddle was endorsed  by the United Nations Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development as a Decade Activity.

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