South Africa is facing increasing pressure to its marine and coastal ecosystems as the country drives a process to unlock the economic potential of the ocean through development. It is vital that this development continues but in a manner that is sustainable to the environment. The health and prosperity of the future generations of the country depends on our ability to achieve this, as healthy oceans play a crucial role in providing essential ecosystem services such as food and oxygen, and buffering coastal communities against increased intensity storms. Unfortunately, there remains a profound lack of public understanding about the crucial link between human prosperity and healthy marine ecosystems and their species. Development must be allowed to continue but with proactive input from marine ecologists. In South Africa, the ability to meet these challenges and provide practical solutions is being compromised by insufficient human capacity within the marine science and conservation management sectors. These shortfalls are linked to slow transformation, lack of career-guidance at schools, and the fact that very few undergraduate marine science students continue on to post-graduate level. Furthermore, owing to the lack of affordable ship-based platforms, most students who do complete marine science degrees have limited ocean fieldwork experience. Through the development of partnerships, Wildlands has enabled the establishment of the Ocean Stewards Programme which aims to address this key challenge by providing catalytic marine science, management and industry exposure to a new generation of emerging Ocean Stewards.