Read on to discover the invaluable conservation work the island carries out, as well as the thrilling ocean-based activities available to guests on a luxury holiday in the Maldives, at one of the most luxurious resorts in the world...
What first got you interested in the ocean and marine biology?
I am one of those people who is interested in almost everything and nature has always fascinated me. Due to my upbringing in South Africa, my love for the natural world began in the mountains. It was only when I went to university and joined the sailing club, that my love affair with the ocean began. Working in a tropical paradise and having the opportunity to swim with dolphins and manta rays as part of my job is definitely not the norm for marine biologists, so I consider myself incredibly lucky to have this opportunity to be immersed in such an extraordinary world. The ocean is now my sanctuary, learning about it has become an obsession and helping to preserve it, is my lifelong goal.
What conservation work is COMO Cocoa Island involved in?
When I see someone standing on the reef or reaching for another plastic water bottle, it makes me realise how far we still need to go in reducing our impact on the earth. A little education and understanding can go a long way, and for this reason before every snorkelling trip, we give a short briefing about how to treat the marine environment. I also give bi-weekly presentations about different marine-related topics, sharing the wonders of the marine world.
We are actively engaged in coral restoration through planting coral frames which guests can sponsor, and host various citizen science projects, such as manta ray, turtle and whale shark identification. We also organise monthly reef cleans, where employees and staff are encouraged to get involved. As guides, we use our time in the water not just to share the wonders of the marine world, but also to gather scientific information such as water temperature, current strength and marine life sightings, that we then share with the Maldivian Marine Research Centre.
What's the best and most challenging part of your job?
Coral restoration and gardening is one of my favourite parts as it is wonderful to learn about these amazing animals, (yes coral is an animal). Coral reefs are also an essential habitat for fish, and act as valuable storm protection for small island communities such as Cocoa Island. In an effort to help save the coral reef, we have been planting small coral fragments onto solid structures. In this way, we can collect coral which fish break off larger colonies and attach them onto a solid surface (coral frame), where they have a chance to grow. What makes the coral project one of the most challenging parts of my job, is that coral reefs are currently in a lot of trouble due to a combination of climate change, weather anomalies and human impact. To witness such a beautiful habitat in such turmoil can be extremely challenging.
What is your favourite marine creature and why?
White-Spotted Eagle Rays are one of my favourite marine creatures, named due to their grace and ability to soar through the ocean - much like an eagle of the skies. These beautiful creatures are frequently encountered whilst diving, and even come into the shallow lagoon area near the guest villas to feed and mate. Unfortunately, their slow growth and low reproductive rate, combined with their vulnerability to entrapment in fishing nets, have resulted in them being classified as vulnerable to extinction by the IUCN red list. We still know very little about these beautiful animals and they continue to fascinate divers and scientists all over the world.
What has been your most memorable experience in the Maldives so far?
One of our yoga instructors from Bhutan was terrified of the water when she first arrived. Over the course of her time here, I taught her to swim and on her last day she was confident enough to snorkel around our house reef. She has since passed on these skills to her daughter, and I now offer regular swimming lessons to all employees. Here at COMO Cocoa Island, we are right next to a famous dive site which is well known for shark sightings. Having the opportunity to dive to a shark cleaning station to witness around 100 Grey Reef Sharks floating vertically in the water having their teeth cleaned, was another unforgettable experience.
What activities are available to resort guests to allow them to experience the ocean?
Despite the wonders of our beautiful island and the phenomenal reef at your doorstep, we encourage guests to sign up for excursions. I recommend the Sunset Cruise, where we almost always encounter dolphins, as well as daily snorkelling trips to different reefs around the atoll to see whale sharks - the biggest fish in the sea - manta rays, turtles and reef sharks. For the fishermen, Big Game Fishing and Sunset Fishing using the traditional Maldivian hand line technique are popular, where you can catch your own lunch and our gourmet chefs will cook it to your personal preference. We also offer some of the best diving in the Maldives, in additional to abundant watersports such as parasailing, sailing, windsurfing, kayaking and paddle-boarding. It is impossible to be bored in this beautiful tropical paradise!