Juliet – Marine Savers internship Maldives (6) pilot whale

Hi everyone, my name is Olivia, and I am a 22-year-old Master’s student from England, studying Tropical Marine Biology. I am currently the marine biologist intern here at the Marine Discovery Centre at Four Seasons Landaa Giraavaru. As part of my Master’s degree, I am researching the Reefscapers coral propagation programme.

Juliet – Marine Savers internship Maldives (6) pilot whale
Juliet – Marine Savers internship Maldives (6) pilot whale

My project involves investigating the effect of the size of coral fragments on the overall health of the coral frames. Three size categories were determined; 1.5cm, 3cm and 5cm length corals (small, medium and large respectively), and each size category had two representative frames. Each frame held 38 fragments, totalling 228 fragments of the branching coral Acropora tenuis.

The frames then spent 10 days at the jetty at 4m depth, after which they were moved to ‘Anchor Point’ site at 16.5m depth, for twice-weekly monitoring using the CoralWatch Coral Health Chart (developed by Queensland University). The chart works by using colour as a proxy for measuring health, ranging from 1 (bleached/dead), to 6 (very healthy). The donor colony was also measured, to investigate the effect that defragmentation has on the donor.

Olivia - marine internship Reefscapers Maldives coral frame

During the nursery stage, health fluctuated as the coral fragments adjusted to their new environment of different temperature and light intensity. Immediately after transplantation, the fragments health began to recover, and it was here that the differences in the amount of recovery between the size categories could be observed.

Throughout the experiment, the large size category demonstrated the highest recovery, followed by the medium fragments and then finally the small ones. Statistical analysis between the size categories confirmed a significant difference in health between all the sizes, particularly between the small and large groups.

Olivia - marine internship Reefscapers Maldives outplanted coral frames

Height on the frame was also an influential factor, so statistical analyses were conducted between the frame height intervals for each size category. Significant differences were found for the small and medium sizes, which performed poorly at the top of the frames (likely due to increased sunlight and UV exposure). However, the large fragments were healthy at all height intervals, possibly due to their greater size being able to hold more zooxanthellae in the tissue, generating more energy for the coral to utilise, giving increased resilience to external stress.

As well as my project, I have also been taking part in the daily duties of the Marine Discovery Centre. Each morning I would feed the turtles, weighing out their food and dispensing medications/vitamins. After feeding I’d help with turtles who require more specific care, in particular one turtle named Varu. When I first arrived, Varu had just undergone an operation on her remaining front flipper that wasn’t healing very well, but now she is doing much better! We initially didn’t believe she could ever be released back into the wild, however, after a few ocean swims, we now hope this will be possible!

Olivia - marine internship Reefscapers Maldives (5) awareness [1080]

My other duties have included taking guests on the daily snorkels and dolphin cruises. Prior to coming to Landaa, I had never even seen a pod of dolphins, but I have now been lucky enough to see large pods of Spinners (Stenella longirostris) and small pods of Bottlenose (Tursiops truncatus). On several occasions, I was fortunate enough to join the Manta Trust team on some of their Manta On Call trips, as well as joining the team on their research vessel for the day, where we saw one the highest number of mantas so far for this season! We spent the entire day at Hanifaru Bay, and estimated seeing 80 mantas, including the famous Baba Ghanoush. It was truly one of the most incredible days I’ve ever had.

I’m sad to be leaving, but I am so incredibly thankful for the opportunity to join the Marine Savers team and gain experience in my field with the help of the Reefscapers coral biologists. I’ve enjoyed every second of it and have made some lifelong friends.  

Olivia 😊