One of the main attractions of the Maldives is the marine life and reef that lies beneath the surface of the Indian Ocean. We catch up with Jumeirah Vittaveli’s Resident Marine Biologist Emily Armstrong who’s made it her mission to protect it.
Tell us about the reef surrounding the resort?
Jumeirah Vittaveli has one of the largest, richest and healthiest house reefs in the south Male atoll. The diversity of sea life here is among the best I’ve ever encountered. I just never tire of it – there’s always something different to see. As well as the colourful coral, you’ll often see turtles and hundreds of fish. We’ve got loads of amazing dive sites so close by and everywhere is fantastic for snorkelling. The more adventurous can explore the five wreck dive sites near by.
What are you favourite dive sites?
Emboodhoo Canyon – purely for its abundance of aquatic life and healthy coral. The canyon was created when a large chunk of reef broke off creating a narrow passage between the broken block and the main reef. A series of large overhangs at various levels are adorned with colourful hard and soft coral fans. Schools of tropical reef fish, tuna, reef sharks and moray eels can be discovered lurking in the canyon while turtles are often seen feeding in the shallows. The point where the broken chunk of reef meets the main reef is at about 20 metres and the remains of a giant clam stretching to one metre in length can be seen there. Magical.
As a Marine Biologist, what’s your job?
It’s my job to protect and nurture the reef. Coral reefs are a very important resource, not only as a habitat and indirect food source for up to 25% of marine organisms, but also for human benefits such as fishing, shoreline protection, and of course, tourism. Here in the Maldives we have some of the most beautiful reefs in the world, and we aim to support their stability and regeneration. We take vulnerable, bleached corals and giving them a healthy, stable environment to regenerate.
Sounds like hard work – how do you manage?
I don’t do it on my own – the guests help me. Through our Coral Restoration Programme we try to educate people, to inspire them to make small changes and become more environmentally aware. Once a week I’m joined by children in a Junior Coral Ranger session. We learn about the importance of cleaning up the oceans through regular reef cleaning activities and they have the opportunity to plant their own coral. For qualified divers I started ‘Adopt a Dive Site’ as part of PADI’s Project Aware programme ‘Dive Against Debris’, to help clear up waste from the underwater environment.
I also run weekly marine talks for the guests and take them on snorkelling tours along the house reef where they can observe the progress of our coral frames and plant their own corals. Whenever I get the opportunity when I’m diving, I remove the Crown of Thorns – this is a specific species of starfish that destroys reefs when overpopulating them.
What a great job! Tell us how you got here
I graduated from the University of Exeter in the UK with a Bachelors in Biology and Animal Behaviour. I started my career with the Marine Turtle Conservation Project based in Northern Cyprus. It was in Cyprus that I also became a Dive Master. I then completed a Master’s degree in Research Science, studying the effects of boat noise on stress levels in coral reef fish and carried out fieldwork and research at Lizard Island Research Station on the Great Barrier Reef, Australia. In October 2016 I was lucky enough to join the dive centre at Jumeirah Vittaveli.
Where do you go next?
For the future I hope to grow our coral regeneration project and get more people involved (both guests and colleagues), also I look forward to the chance to contribute to governmental monitoring of the Maldives coral reefs. In the long term, I would love to be involved in sea turtle research or conservation and would love to develop a way to integrate environmental awareness and marine conservation with resort life – to make marine biology a five-star experience.
Explore the beautiful Jumeirah Vittaveli