Juliet – Marine Savers internship Maldives (6) pilot whale

Feeding rescue turtle Indianna

Hello, I’m Chathu, a Master’s student at the University of Peradeniya (Sri Lanka). I’ve spent ten weeks as a marine biology intern at the Marine Discovery Center (MDC) in Landaa Giraavaru (Maldives), and I’m having a fantastic time! There is so much to learn about the different aspects of the marine biology programmes here: Turtle care, Fish Lab and Coral propagation, plus the guest turtle safari, guided adventure snorkel, night snorkel and dolphin cruise.

Most of my days are spent taking care of the rescued sea turtles, found injured and brought to our turtle rescue centre for treatment and recuperation. It is such a rewarding experience to feed the turtles in the afternoon, chatting with the kids and educating them about the impacts of ghost fishing nets on the marine wildlife in the Maldives.

During the last two months, we released two female Olive Ridley sea turtles, Chaaley (meaning “cute” in Dhivehi) and Bella (meaning “beautiful” in Italian). They were both found entangled in ghost fishing nets where they were cut free and brought to for rehabilitation. Fortunately, they both had all their flippers intact, and their injuries were superficial. They both were able to dive and had a healthy appetite, so we released them back into the ocean after a brief recuperation.

Some mornings, I got the opportunity to help our resident aquaculturists, Aku and Carla, with clownfish breeding and aquarium maintenance.  It’s a known fact that after the movie ‘Finding Nemo’, lots of clownfish were being collected from the wild as ornamentals for the aquarium trade. Here at Marine Savers, Maldivian anemonefish and Clark’s anemonefish are being raised with the hope of releasing them back to the wild.  I am new to fish breeding, so Carla kindly and patiently taught me the aquarium protocols, with Aku ever-present to fix things if any problems occurred.

Juliet – Marine Savers internship Maldives (6) pilot whale

Admitting rescue turtle Chaaley

Juliet – Marine Savers internship Maldives (6) pilot whale

Huge school of Convict surgeonfish on the reef

One of the most exciting things I experienced here is the night snorkel. Whilst waiting to start the night snorkel, we enjoyed the beauty of the sunset over the anchored yachts, which is truly an amazing sight. Whilst walking towards the beach to start the night snorkel, we met hundreds of hermit crabs. The night snorkel on the house reef also includes the coral frames, transplanted by our coral biologists for the coral propagation programme.

Interestingly, parrotfish have made the coral frames their home at night, where almost each and every frame is occupied by a large parrotfish sleeping! These parrotfish also share their coral frame with other species such as Grouper and Surgeonfish. At the end of the excursion, when we turn off our torches, we experienced the tiny bioluminescent lights emitted by the dinoflagellate plankton… truly a remarkable experience!

In the afternoons, I usually go on the turtle or adventure safari with our guests, help our coral biologists with ‘Build a Reef’, help reef monitoring or frame recycling, update the marine life database, or help with Dolphin and turtle ID projects. It was such an amazing experience to accompany our coral biologists, to monitor the coral frames that form the turtle shape in front of the Blu beach restaurant. We recycled and monitored about 170 frames within one hour.

My usual day finishes at 6pm, and in the evenings I like to play badminton or tennis, or otherwise go for a swim or kayak in the ocean. We sometimes play pool in the staff café, have a movie night and a gathering with friends.

Juliet – Marine Savers internship Maldives (6) pilot whale

Manta Ray, photographed as part of a Manta Trust research trip

One fine day, our resident marine biologist Saphire and I went to investigate the small seagrass patch close to the water villas. Saphire has been monitoring the small seagrass patch in Landaa Giravaaru for over a year now, and I was very interested to join her. In a short period of time, we recorded 26 different fish species associated with seagrass habitats, including:

Maldives cardinalfish (Apogon sp.), Dusky wrasse (Halichoeres marginatus), Picasso triggerfish (Rhinecanthus aculeatus), juvenile Reindeer wrasse (Novaculichthys taeniourus), Convict surgeonfish (Acanthurus triostegus), Sergeant major damselfish (Abudefduf vaigiensis), Blennies and a school of Snappers.

A once in a lifetime experience for me was being invited to join the Manta Trust research boat with our recreation team. We visited Raa atoll to find Manta rays and take ID photographs. By photographing the unique spot patterns on the belly of the mantas, we are able to track population numbers, migration routes and reproductive behaviour of the rays.  I was lucky enough to see around 20 Mantas feeding on the ocean surface … which was incredible!

Every day has been an adventure so far, and I have learnt so much within a short period of time. Although I will be leaving soon, I am looking forward to gaining more work experience and I will continue to spread awareness to everyone about the importance of preserving marine biodiversity.

Best wishes
Chathu

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