Soneva Jani’s Marine Biologist
A little about me
I began my career in Marine Biology in 2011, when I studied Marine Biology for my bachelor’s degree. After finishing my undergraduate studies, I fulfilled my dream of winning a place on a Masters course in Tropical Biodiversity and Ecosystems. This let me study in four countries, including Australia and Malaysia. During my studies I participated in a number of work experience placements to improve my knowledge of the management of marine ecosystems.
Not ready to give up the white sandy beaches and diverse coral reefs just yet, I headed to the Maldives to work as a Marine Biologist after graduating from my Masters. Soneva Jani is the second resort that I’ve worked at in the Maldives. I have been here almost two years now!
A day in the life
The number one perk, and what I love the most about being a Marine Biologist in the Maldives, is that it’s unpredictable. Every day is different! One day I might be responding to a call about an animal stuck in a fishing net, and another I might be woken up in the early hours of the morning because some baby turtles are hatching from their nest. One of the most unusual experiences I remember is when an endangered ornate eagle ray got stuck in the ring jetty for about two days. I had to gather a group of volunteers to help to herd him out again.
My day usually starts out with a patrol along the whole length of the island. The reason I do this is that during the sea turtle nesting season (usually around May until November), we have Green Sea Turtles coming to the east side of our island to nest. Green Turtles prefer to nest under trees and vegetation, the downside to this is they often get stuck in the trees, they sometimes get lost and end up in the muddy mangrove lakes on their way back to the sea. As turtles cannot go backwards and find it nearly impossible to get out of a sticky mud lake, we perform daily rescue patrols each morning.
These turtles can weigh in excess of 150kg, so it is definitely a team effort to gather enough strong Hosts to carry them back to the ocean. Last year we rescued eight of these endangered animals by performing our daily patrols, which would have otherwise died from dehydration. When the turtle manages to successfully make a nest without getting stuck, we protect the eggs from predation and disturbance, and help the hatchlings find their way to the sea if they get lost.
Guest snorkelling and marine data collection
On any given day, we head out to snorkel with our guests. This can be in the morning or afternoon depending on the schedule, with as many as three to four trips on a busy day! During snorkelling trips I introduce the guests to interesting creatures and marine life that we find along the way. I also raise awareness about the threats that our oceans are facing today, and how we can all be part of the solution. I consider this to be one of the most important parts of my job.
Once in the water, the most exciting part of the snorkel trip for most guests is if we are lucky enough to spot megafauna. Megafauna include sharks, stingrays, turtles, and if we are lucky enough the majestic manta ray! Even when snorkelling we make sure that we are always collecting important data. On every snorkel, I will log the conditions of the sea (current direction, strength, sea state, temperature), any rare or endangered species that we encounter (turtles, manta rays, sharks, rays) and the presence of any reef predators, such as the Crown-of-Thorns starfish. These starfish have been known to destroy whole reefs in just a couple of weeks by eating the coral.
If we do sight a turtle or a manta ray, we make sure to get the all-important ID shot. For turtles this is a photo of the left and the right sides of the face, for mantas it is a photo of the spots on the underside of its belly. These markings are unique to each animal, and so they allow us to build a database of individual animals – which we can name! This data is very important for monitoring the numbers and movement of turtles across the Maldives. It will also contribute to the development of new conservation strategies in the future.
In addition to our daily data collection, we carry out full reef check surveys twice a year, which involves looking more closely at the numbers of certain species of fish, invertebrates and the composition of different substrates (such as coral, rock, algae), that makes up our reef. This means we can monitor how healthy our reef is over time. If we detect any deterioration in the health of the reef through our surveys we can pin-point why it is happening and work to fix the root of the problem.
Land data collection and the coral nursery
We collect some data on land too. When we find a ghost fishing net (which is a net that has been discarded at sea and drifts on currents to catch animals like turtles and sharks) we collect information about the size of the net, the mesh size, the colour, and if anything is attached to it. We then send this information to our partner, the Olive Ridley Project. They use this data to trace the nets back to their origins, and work with fishing communities in other countries to break the cycle.
Throughout the week, the coral nursery needs to be maintained. This project involves growing coral from small naturally broken fragments from the reef on a metal frame. When they reach a good size we use these as a donor colony to rebuild the reef. This needs to be constantly monitored and maintained; removing dead fragments, removing predators like the drupella snail which eats coral, recording the environmental conditions and the survival rate of the coral. Sometimes we are lucky enough to see a turtle swimming nearby! Seeing the growth and recovery of the coral is one of my favourite and most satisfying parts of my job.
Mirco-plastic surveys and other projects
We are also working on new and exciting projects, which include carrying out regular micro plastic surveys to see how many of these tiny pieces of plastic are present on our beach. As a citizen science project (like the Turtle and Manta ID project) we can teach Hosts and guests to perform simple data collection tasks so everyone can be involved. The plastics we survey are those that are less than 5mm in size. These may have been originally produced at this size, like the micro-plastic beads found in toothpastes, or they may have degraded down to this size over time from larger items such as plastic bags.
Mirco-plastics not only find have a negative effect on our own health, but recent research has found that they may actually heat up turtle nests. Because the gender of the hatchlings is dependent on temperature, this will cause more females than males to be produced, meaning it will be much harder for the female turtles to a mate in the future. After carrying out each survey we do a cleanup and remove as much of the plastic as we can.
I am also responsible for organising regular beach and lagoon cleanups. These cleanups raise awareness about the problems we are facing today from plastic pollution, and helps instill a love of the marine world among our Hosts. We also analyse the species and size of the fish that we purchase, to make sure we select only the most sustainable options for our guests and Hosts. Another project is the mapping of the seagrass beds in our lagoon, which act as an important habitat for many species of marine animals.
These are just some of the things that I get to do as part of my job at Soneva Jani. I hope you enjoyed hearing about a day in my life, and I hope to see you in the water soon!