Ale coral biologist blog Maldives

Tending to our underwater Reefscapers coral gardens, and taking photos for the guests to see their growth.  

Hello, my name is Alejandra, and I am the new Reefscapers Coral Biologist at Four Seasons Resort Kuda Huraa. 😊 I still cannot believe I am so very far away from my home in Mexico, on a tiny island in the middle of the Indian Ocean. I wake up very grateful every day, eager to keep exploring this amazing country.

My day begins with a call from the ocean! When I first arrived on the island, the colours of the ocean, the peaceful beaches, the balance and beauty of the place… all are simply breath-taking.  But that was nothing compared to how I felt when I first jumped in the water… I was even more impressed by the amazing reef fish and coral diversity. I knew the Maldives’ underwater world was going to be amazing, but actually coming face to face with such biodiversity was a mind-blowing experience (and challenging, as there are over 180 different species of corals!).

Ale coral biologist blog Maldives - Acropora humilis
Coral Acropora humilis at the top of a coral frame. Look at those colours!

This is why I am so happy to be a part of this job, which is always busy and includes a variety of activities. Let me take you through what I do as a Coral Biologist… One of my favourite activities is building new coral frames with the resort guests. I am really looking forward to seeing how the recently planted frames start to blossom into thriving coral colonies.
Taking photos of our frames to monitor the growth of the corals on them is also an amazing task. I then upload these photos to our  Reefscapers webpage for guest sponsors to see how their frame has changed since the last time they saw it.

Ale coral biologist blog Maldives - coral frame

Placing a newly transplanted frame into the water

Ale coral biologist blog Maldives - fish

Fish love our coral frames!

During my short time in the role, I have learnt that the most concerning threat for Maldivian coral reefs are bleaching events, and we must always keep an eye on sea temperatures, as well as the health of our coral colonies, recording any signs of stress.

Seasonally higher sea temperatures normally occur from April to June. Having started the job in late April, my first project was to monitor the health each week of 174 selected coral colonies at three different sites around the island (CoralWatch monitoring). Fortunately, this season, the bleaching was mild. I was surprised to observe many interesting findings; some corals had grown, others became healthier, and a few became pale and stressed, depending a lot on where they were located.

Turtle feeding Marine Savers

All our turtles have feeding-preferences and favourite foods

Another thing I get to do as part of my job is help with turtle feeding! It is amazing to get to know our turtle patients. Currently, we have 12 turtles of three different species; two of these are full grown adults and the rest are still juveniles.

I also get to interact with guests, and join guest excursions such as snorkelling and dolphin cruises. It is fun to hop on a boat and go out to sea to look for dolphins. Seeing people from all over the world with the same big smile on their faces when they see dolphins swimming and leaping around our boat is also a huge bonus of this job!

No one said that fresh starts are easy, but the fact that I find myself always surrounded by marine life, plus the amazing people around me has certainly made it very easy for me to adapt to and enjoy my time here. I am happy to say that being able to have a full-time job that involves giving something back to our oceans makes me feel incredibly satisfied.

Ale coral biologist blog Maldives staghorn coral

Check out this gourgeous staghorn coral frame!

After working here for 2 full months now, I must say that I still get very excited every time I go in the water! My favourite days are the ones that start with a morning dip in the ocean, looking after our stunning coral frames. I cannot count the amount of different animal species I have seen around them in the past two months! I never get tired of seeing the occasional Hawksbill turtle or Blacktip reef shark around the resort; admiring their beauty and grace while they´re swimming in the crystal-clear waters and moving in between the vibrant colours of the reef is the highlight of my day.

Ale coral biologist blog Maldives crown of thorns

Crown of Thorns starfish (COTs) are avid coral predators

Coral work always keeps me busy, as we currently have 1300 coral frames in different locations around the island. It is important to keep monitoring the frames, checking their identification tags, knowing their exact GPS locations, and removing algae and any hungry predators.

Our small Kuda Huraa island is surrounded by beautiful and vibrant coral gardens that are home to many fish and other marine species. This beauty helps us to understand the huge importance of coral propagation programs for enhancing the productivity and the health of the local ecosystem.  In the context of our present world, being able to make an impact in a positive way feels like the least we can do.

Ale coral biologist blog Maldives heart frame

Heart-shaped coral frame, made for PADI’s Women’s Dive Day

Ale coral biologist blog Maldives Maldivian clownfish and anemone

My stunning daily view: Maldivian Clownfish with anemone

During my second month, I have started to interact more with our turtle patients, and turtle-feeding is one of my favourite activities. Knowing what our patients have gone through makes me reflect on the harmful actions of humans.
Who said a turtle´s life was easy?
Unfortunately, many Olive Ridley turtles get trapped in ghost nets (discarded fishing gear) and a few of our patients have suffered a lot as a result. They must then go through a long healing and rehabilitation process. I had never spent so much time with sea turtles before, but it is a truly rewarding experience, with each turtle having its own unique ‘personality’ and different behaviours.

green sea turtles Maldives Marine Savers

Green sea turtle patients in our recovery centre (we are recording growth in facial scute patterns as photomorph video)

Finally, I also got the chance to participate in many exciting special events like beach clean-ups, ocean clean-ups, and the making of special coral frames to celebrate World Environment Day, World Oceans Day, and PADI Women’s Dive Day.

I now feel like I wear my flippers more than I wear my shoes, and I absolutely love it! Even on the busiest of workdays, jumping in the water and observing the amazing marine world never fails to take my breath away, making me feel like a part of nature. Being able to live my day-to-day life in a world class tourist destination always reminds me of how lucky I am. Even though the job carries a lot of responsibilities, overseeing the coral propagation program gives me the opportunity to give something back to both the ocean and the resort guests.

Thanks for reading, and see you in Part 2 !
Love, Alejandra

Alejandra Woolrich

Alejandra Woolrich

Coral Biologist

Alejandra completed her Master’s degree in Marine Science and Management in Australia in 2019, after having obtained a joint scholarship from CONACYT- Macquarie University. She also has a BSc in Marine Biology (2016) from Universidad del Mar (México), in which she specialised in Diatom Taxonomy in upwelling locations from the Mexican South Pacific.
Having lived and worked near the ocean her whole life, mostly in the Mexican Caribbean, and witnessing firsthand the terrible effects of climate change on these highly valuable ecosystems, she became involved in coral propagation programs at the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef System.

Alejandra is a firm believer that environmental education and local, multi-sectoral engagement leads to effective management, and she is eager to continue to raise awareness, while running the coral propagation program as our Coral Biologist at the Marine Discovery Centre, Kuda Huraa.

Ale coral biologist blog Maldives beach cleanup

Participating in a beach cleanup