A love affair with trees

  • March 28, 2013 | Margaret Hamilton

Margaret Hamilton doing what she loves most – planting trees

Having been brought up on a hillside in Ireland overlooking the ocean, my love affair with nature began when I was very young. As an adult, while sailing the Atlantic and Pacific, I saw many things that horrified and distressed me, worst of all an abundance of pollution and the horrific effects of pollution on marine animals.

After sailing for six years I settled in Australia and became involved in an International Beach Clean-up campaign, which I really enjoyed.

In 1992 I found myself back in Durban and drawn to the work of the South African Association for Marine Biological Research. While watching the dolphin stadium staff treating stranded animals, I found myself desperately wanting to become a part of their passion and commitment to the environment.

Luckily I soon found a full-time position at uShaka Sea World in Durban and began working in the dolphin stadium. I continued my anti-pollution and marine awareness programmes, and generally dedicated my life to sharing my respect for the oceans and their marine creatures with visitors to the Aquarium and dolphin stadium.

After more than 20 years' working closely with the ocean, it became abundantly clear to me that a healthy marine environment is dependent on what people do on land. I wanted to do something for the planet, so I started planting indigenous trees from seeds and cuttings which I would offer for use in Greening the Planet projects.

This included growing 80 trees for the uShaka Sea World Outreach Team Arbour Week project. Each year, during Arbour Week, staff from uShaka Sea World head for schools in and around eThekwini  which have been identified as both in need of trees and having the capacity to care for the trees until they are well-established.

I find planting seeds and watching them grow almost addictive and soon I started wanting to plant more and more trees.I collected seeds from coral and fever trees, planted them in my garden at home, in the shade and in seed trays. After approximately one month they outgrew the restrictions of the seed trays and I transplanted them into black pots containing a mixture of sand, compost, worm nutrient and potting soil.

Unfortunately my home garden was not big enough to house my rapidly expanding nursery, so I used uShaka Sea World’s back-of-house area where I could care for them as I worked, ensuring they received the right amount of sunlight and moisture.  

Planting trees in catchment areas on land is good for the ocean. Trees help to prevent siltation of rivers and help to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide in the air. As seawater absorbs carbon dioxide, reduced levels of carbon dioxide in the air lead to a reduction in the amount of carbon dioxide absorbed by the ocean. This results in a reduction in the level of ocean acidification, which is beneficial for corals and various invertebrate species.

My dream is to see as many people as possible joining me in planting as many trees as possible.

  • Margaret Hamilton is the daily operations manager at Ushaka Sea World's dolphin stadium

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