My fifth month as Kuda Huraa’s marine biology intern has drawn to an end, with plenty of tasks to be getting on with.

Unfortunately, the sea surface water temperatures around Kuda Huraa were regularly reaching 32-33˚C, meaning that coral bleaching is becoming an ever-present sight when we are monitoring our coral frames. The shallow channel site in particular has suffered greatly as a result of the high water temperatures, and both our frame colonies and wild colonies are showing strong signs of bleaching. Certain frames at this site have been selected to be monitored on a weekly basis in order to assess the levels of bleaching and any potential for recovery.

Monitoring of our 800 house reef coral frames is well underway and so far 21% of the house reef has been monitored. Frames here are located at varying depths from 2.5m down to 12m. Some of the deeper frames are doing particularly well and have managed to avoid bleaching and COTS predation. This is a likely result of the temperatures at 12m being slightly cooler, at approximately 29˚C. In spite of this, an extensive amount of COTS damage has been observed on the house reef over the last few months and so a large percentage of the frames will have to be re-transplanted prior to being monitored. We are hesitant to begin re-transplantation due to the large amount of bleaching that has occurred. Fragmenting wild colonies that have the potential to survive the current high water temperatures is risky as the mortality rates of smaller sized fragments is high. If we were to begin re-transplanting and fragmenting surviving wild colonies, the fragments would likely bleach once on the frames. This is something that will be the focus in the next month or so, once temperatures begin to decrease.

My project is also at a critical point, and unfortunately a large number of my surviving fragments have bleached and are showing signs of partial mortality. I can only continue to take my weekly measurements and hope that they can pull through the next 4 weeks. I expect there to be little growth over my final weeks as the fragments will now be investing energy into survival rather than growth. Despite this, I am remaining positive and I still have some good data with which to go on when making my conclusions on the ideal fragment sizes to use in propagation techniques.

Reefscapers coral fragment 50mm - bleached Acropora digitifera
Reefscapers coral fragment 30mm - bleached Acropora digitifera

The wonders of the Maldivian marine life still continue to impress and amaze me whilst snorkelling and diving; I have frequently witnessed lionfish, scorpionfish, batfish, stingrays, sharks and napoleon wrasse (to name a few). The waters have been calm and clear and this has given plenty of opportunity to get some good snapshots whilst completing surveys and monitoring.

For the first time, I have also seen Risso’s dolphins whilst on our dolphin cruise excursion. We saw large splashes in the distance and I thought at the time that these splashes were way too big to be the ‘usual’ Spinner Dolphins we see. As the boat approached, we could see the distinctive black colouration and long, thin fins protruding from the water. The pod was small and very elusive. We thought there may be some juveniles amongst them and the mothers were being protective. The Spinner Dolphins have impressed as well this month, bow-riding and riding the wake at the back of the boat regularly, incorporating jumps as they go.

My life as an ‘island model’ continues and this month I was privileged to have taken part in a Japanese television episode of “The Secrets of Paradise” concerning the Reefscapers programme at Kuda Huraa. We made a coral frame, then deployed it in a deep cluster of frames on our house reef site; all whilst being filmed by a professional camera crew! I had to do a short ‘piece-to-camera’ but luckily for me it was mostly a non-speaking role!

This month has also seen the arrival of the Four Seasons Apprentice class of 2017. To kick off their introduction to the MDC we made a medium-sized coral frame with them. They were highly enthusiastic and keen to ask questions which made the experience more rewarding. As part of their experience, Dhaanu and Moadhu – the 2 dive apprentices – have been thrust into the MDC until June to help out with our daily duties. Both shy at first, they are coming out of their shells and have so far been a great asset to the team.

My 6 Months

So my 6 months as an intern with Seamarc is finally coming to an end. I have thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity and have met some wonderful people and been able to see some spectacular things along the way.

My final month has seen the arrival of five new Green Sea turtle hatchlings; Tony, Oscar, Rex, Kasbawa and Bodhi. All 5 hatchlings are doing well, with Tony showing considerable signs of growth because he eats all his food so quickly! Rex was a slow-starter but is putting on weight and catching up with the others. I am positive that under the care of our turtle biologist they will reach their release size over the next year or so and be ready for the big open ocean.

I have also been helping to complete the fish monitoring data collection we regularly undertake; which is being used as part of a project being conducted by MoFA (the Maldives Ministry of Fisheries and Agriculture). I have had the opportunity to see fish such as coral groupers, golden trevally, giant trevally and even a few yellow-fin tuna. The fish are measured and photos taken of the largest and smallest of each species. The data is then sent to MoFA for evaluation.

We have also been continuing our quest to monitor the 800 coral frames on our house reef site, which is now 50% complete. Efforts have also been made to try to move some of the coral frames (using lift bags) to deeper sites on the reef, in an attempt to combat the increased sea temperatures and high light intensity which is causing bleaching. Frames from around 4m depths have been moved down to 13m where there is less light penetration and the water temperatures are slightly cooler at 30-31°C.

My personal coral growth project has drawn to a close and sadly, with the increased sea temperatures we have seen over the last few weeks, all of the fragments had suffered mortalities by the end of the experimental period. I am in the process of analysing the data and have obtained some useful findings regarding the ideal fragment size to use in propagation techniques. The temperature data also revealed some interesting trends, particularly a distinct increase between the months of April and May, compared to previous months. This will be useful in offering future insights to explain the thermal tolerances of corals and can hopefully be used by the team as a baseline comparison for future records. I am hoping to publish my findings in due course and have enjoyed completing the project as it has given me an increased knowledge of experimental design and how to approach writing a scientific paper intended for publication. I am keen to use these skills in my future endeavours and hope to progress into more research-based roles as a result.

This month has also given me the opportunity to see my first ever reef manta ray on one of the survey dives we completed at Lankan Caves dive site. It was a spectacular sight and I consider myself extremely lucky to have seen such a graceful animal. It only passed for a brief moment but what a sight it was! It is certainly one of the highlights of my internship and something I will not forget in a hurry. I was lucky to see a total of 4 mantas whilst on Kuda Huraa and even got to see two mantas at a cleaning station. Both mantas swam through our dive group, getting extremely close!

To mark the end of my time here I have been trying many different activities on my days off, including diving, surfing and water-sports, and even the ‘fun tube’ and banana boat rides. We were pulled behind a speedboat for 25 minutes and the ride was certainly bumpy but a lot of fun! These activities, along with the people I have met along the way, have completed my internship at Kuda Huraa and made the experience so enjoyable and memorable. I wish to thank everyone at the MDC and the staff at Four Seasons Kuda Huraa for making my time here so special and I thoroughly look forward to keeping in contact.

Emily 🙂

Do you want to experience life as a marine biologist
here in the Maldives ?

Head over to our Employment page to read about the different ways you can work with us - full time, apprentice, intern or volunteer. And see more from our Interns and Volunteers in their very own words & photos as part of our Diary / Blog series.

One of our first interns, Dylan (from Singapore's Temasek Polytechnic) had an amazingly unique experience with us.
Firstly, he helped with the rescue of a stranded false killer whale 'Haita' (although she sadly did not survive rehabilitation).
And then he was invited to the “Marine Mammal Stranding Symposium” (February 2013), to present our work and findings to fellow marine biologists.

Dylan (Singapore) 2012

Glen worked with us in 2014, developing a shark population survey to study local populations of Blacktip Reef sharks using a variety of survey methods including underwater camera traps, and snorkel surveys.

Glen (UK) 2014

Frédéric was a PhD student and lecturer at the National Museum of Natural History in Paris, specialising in ecology and tropical marine biology.
During his time with us, Frédéric researched indigenous Echinoderms, and possibly discovered a previously undocumented new species of sea cucumber.

Frédéric (France) 2014

A very enjoyable part of my job is spreading awareness to the public, to promote better understanding and appreciation for the marine ecosystem. We recently organised a school excursion ... seeing these enthusiastic children learning about the environment brings me joy and hope.
My time here has been an amazing experience ... more than just swimming with the fishes and being surrounded by beautiful reefs!

Adrelia (Singapore) 2014

All of the experiences have allowed me to make many new friends and gain knowledge and memories that will never be forgotten.
Thank you to everyone for making my time here so enjoyable!

Beth (UK) 2015

The care and rehabilitation of the turtles here is very satisfying work.
In just a short few weeks, I have seen Spinner Dolphins, Hawksbill Turtles, Black Tip Reef Sharks and of course lots of colourful and varied marine life ... a wonderful moment each time!

Mailis (Belgium) 2015

Every day since I have arrived has been an adventure!
I am witnessing new and amazing things every day, from sunsets to 'Spanish Dancers' ! It’s a wonderful experience as we share underwater marine life encounters, and I have actually lost count of how many sharks, dolphins and turtles I’ve encountered since I arrived ... and it’s magical every time.

Cath (UK) 2015

Winy and Hazel had a very busy and enjoyable time, working with our turtle care patients and the Reefscapers coral propagation programme.
They also helped with an important reef clean-up, and had a memorable day releasing baby turtle hatchlings into the ocean.

Winy & Hazel (Hong Kong) 2015

Taking time off work to travel all the way to the Maldives to care for sea turtles might seem a crazy idea to some; for me, however, it was the chance of a lifetime. This was the perfect opportunity to leave my office desk in the concrete jungle of Hong Kong and take part in something meaningful in a unique part of the world.
I have had a tremendous time, and have made friends with a lot of lovely people from around the world. I thoroughly enjoyed the experience and would definitely like to come back some day to visit everyone… and the sea turtles too, of course!

Keith (Hong Kong) 2015

I had never seen a turtle this large before, which was a whole new experience for me in itself ... It took 6 people to get this amazing turtle out of the water and into the boat.
I have even started leading some of the snorkel safaris around nearby reefs, an incredibly rewarding experience to be sharing information and experiences with people. My favourite moments have often been on our dolphin cruises, the incredible spinner dolphins never cease to amaze me as they throw their bodies high above the water surface. That is certainly a sight I will never get tired of!

Sophie (UK) 2015

You can see some breathtaking marine life here in the Maldives, and every time I’m in the water I feel constantly in awe of my surroundings ... 2 mantas at a cleaning station swam through our dive group, getting extremely close!
These activities, along with the people I have met along the way have ... made the experience so enjoyable and memorable.

Emily (UK) 2016

Every day was a different adventure, with turtles to treat, corals to transplant, talks to give and dolphins to spot. It is always a thrill to (see) the juvenile Spinner dolphins, who stick very close to their mothers but are often the most acrobatic jumpers, putting the ‘spin’ in Spinner. Sometimes we were lucky to spot manta rays too.
I am very grateful to the Marine Savers team ... It has strengthened my desire to work in marine conservation and I hope to be back in the Maldives one day!

Roz (UK) 2016

The Marine Savers team is great fun to work with, and I couldn’t have asked for a better location to gain some experience in environmental conservation.
It was wonderful to be around so many people who share my passion for the underwater world, and I hope it’s not too long before I’m back beneath the waves in the Maldives!

Dhiya (Sri Lanka) 2016

Each morning I caught the local 8:15 ferry boat … much better than the bus in Germany!
One day we went to a nearby uninhabited agricultural island, to collect some turtle hatchlings and release them out in the open water. Another great experience was the manta boat-trip ... for one whole day we searched for mantas in different sites around Baa Atoll.
All in all I can say that my 6 weeks’ volunteering ... was a great experience, I met a lot of nice and very friendly people and I learned a lot about turtles, fish species and corals in the beautiful tropical waters around the Maldives.

Nicole (Germany) 2016

The first week was a busy one as three new rehab turtles turned up in three consecutive days. I have also been busy with guest snorkel trips, dolphin cruises, scientific projects, coral reef monitoring and surfing world class waves at the local breaks!
I have been here for the last five wonderful weeks ... such great fun and every day is so varied ... to learn all I can about the amazing marine life in the Maldives.

Adam (UK) 2016

From literally stepping out of the airport and onto the resort speedboat, I was completely blown away by how amazing the Maldives is; hot sun, blue skies, and crystal-clear waters … paradise!
In my first week, I spent a lot of time learning about and working with the resident sea turtles ... Caring for these turtles has been great fun and each one has its own personality.
... we were lucky to encounter a large pod of false killer whales, which was an incredible experience!
The teams at both resorts are a fantastic group of people and I enjoyed every moment working with them all.

Mark (UK) 2016

The Seamarc team were excellent teachers (thank you!) and everyone was very patient so I learnt very quickly.
I will always be eternally grateful for this opportunity ... A very sincere thank you from the bottom of my heart for everyone’s encouragement, hard work and dedication. My short time here has allowed me to learn so many things that otherwise might not have been possible.
The memories I have forged here will always have a special place in my heart ♡ … what a wonderful country!

Janice (Singapore) 2017

Seamarc Maldives Volunteering - wonderful natural coral reef
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