Into The Industry: Resort Marine Biologist (Maldives)

Rita Steyn

Emily Moxham has a masters degree in Ichthyology from Rhodes University in South Africa, and currently works at a resort in the Maldives as the resident Marine Biologist. We had a chat about what her life looks like and what brought her to this point.

Photo: Emily Moxham

Photo: Emily Moxham

You’ve built your life around the ocean. What drew you to it in the first place?

Having grown up on a farm in South Africa, I have always loved nature and the environment. Its where I collect myself and find solace. I loved water as a child – rivers, dams and puddles, however, my time on the ocean was limited. At uni, I was a little lost at first and not too sure what I wanted to do subject wise. I joined the sailing club just for fun and my curiosity with the ocean began. With a sail here and a random subject choice there, I was soon chairperson of the uni sailing club and set for a career as an Ichthyologist.

Describe the path you took to where you are now..

After my masters, I took a year off to travel and explore, however there came a time when I realised that although I was not done travelling, I was ready to find a job in my profession and experience new cultures and places using the tools I had gained in university. So, I started the great job search and fortunately, after a few months of searching, I landed an internship as a marine biologist in the Maldives. From there the path is rather simple, I worked hard, showed potential and when the resident marine biologist position became available, I was promoted.

A stunning full moon over the resort beach. Photo: Emily Moxham @sustainablemoxi

A stunning full moon over the resort beach. Photo: Emily Moxham @sustainablemoxi

What does a day in your life look like?

My job is a combination of working in the dive shop (guiding excursions, customer service etc), public education, coral gardening and looking after the sustainability of the entire resort.

Yesterday, my day began with a snorkel trip to a nearby reef. These trips are extremely important as they help teach people how amazing the ocean really ist. Before you can convince someone to look after the ocean, you first need to show them why it needs our protection! At the start of every trip, we brief the guests about basic but important rules such as not standing on or touching the coral and teach them one or two interesting facts regarding what they might see. All shark and turtle sightings are also logged for every dive and snorkel and submitted to the Maldivian research centre so they are able to estimate the abundance of these vulnerable creatures.

Photo: Emily Moxham @sustainablemoxi

Photo: Emily Moxham @sustainablemoxi

In the afternoon, it was marine biology time and me and my new intern kitted up in our dive gear and went to measure the growth of our coral lines (about 4 mm vertical growth a month). We have a coral nursery of over 100 coral frames and are currently trailing coral lines with the hope of planting the fragments back onto the reef when they are large enough. So far, the coral lines are doing extremely well and I am hoping to put some new lines around the island in due course. In total, we manage about 4 000 coral fragments – at times a very time consuming yet rewarding job. The hope is that through the coral gardening work, we are able to help restore the coral reef which was decimated in the 2016 bleaching event.

In the evening I had a marine presentation in the guest bar. The presentations are open to all and we discuss a range of different topics from the coral reef to plastic pollution. The talks are well received and we are able to continue educating the people who come on holiday about how important the marine life is and what we can do to help it.

How do you hope your voice and work will influence others?

As a resort, we try and be sustainable. The guests don’t see or use a plastic water bottle or straw during their stay with us. However, the employee section is a little slower and I have been devoting a fair bit of my time into shifting perceptions at the back of house. Recently I have convinced the resort to stop purchasing 330 ml plastic water bottles (that means that from November onwards we will be using approximately 11 000 water bottles less ever year!), individually wrapped jams, butters and cheese. We are also introducing a meatless Monday once a month with the hope of it becoming once a week. All these changes may seem small, but when you multiply them by the 150 employees we have, it soon can make a big difference. We all need to remember that change takes time. We want the world to suddenly shift, but it is more likely to slowly mould through whispers. I like to remember this quote by Martin Luther King Jr. in my daily life “If I cannot do great things, I can do small things in a great way."

Photo: Emily Moxham @sustainablemoxi

Photo: Emily Moxham @sustainablemoxi

Who or what do you draw your inspiration from?

Nature. I was furious the other day regarding the slow pace of change and the resistance people have towards shifting their mindset. To vent, I took a long stroll in the new moon along our 800m sand bank which is only fully exposed at spring low tides. When I reached the end, I stooped to brush something in the sand and noticed that the sand bank was full of bioluminescence (bioluminescence occurs by the emission of light by living organisms, many people will talk about a glittering beach or sea when referring to it). I began jumping, laughing and racing around watching the beach sparkle beneath my footsteps. My mood instantly lifted and I was reminded once more how incredible the natural world is and how I need to continue the fight to protect it

Which ocean species is on your bucket list to see?

Whale shark! We have an MPA for whale sharks at an atoll a short distance from us. However, so far, I have been unlucky in seeing one. These colossal animals can get up to 12 m long and feed mostly on plankton. They are found in tropical seas all over the world and bring in millions of dollars through tourism each year. Despite their importance, we know very little about them and they are listed as endanger of extinction by the IUCN red list.

Whose work has influenced and inspired you?

Emily Penn. Ocean advocate, skipper and leader. She’s educating people about the dangerous of plastic by taking teams of woman sailing to the pacific garbage patch and other hot spots for plastic pollution. Along the way they collect microplastic samples and tag drifting fishing nets for collection.

Where do you go from here?

There is always so much to do. We are constantly trying to reduce plastic use, Maldives is in desperate need of recycling facilities, and improved environmental management. Like with any change, you need to start small and grow from there. Our island needs to become more self-sufficient. There is a lot we import and it would be great to reduce that. Small changes like a vegetable garden for herbs and greens is a good place to start. Alternate energy resource is another thing to look into. We have ties with an exciting new wave energy trail designed by Professor Tsumoru Shintake of The Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology Graduate University (OIST) and I am holding thumbs for a successful result and sourcing green energy in the future.

Coral propagation with a group of students for world Tourism day; training for coral propagation program. Photo: Emily Moxham @sustainablemoxi

Coral propagation with a group of students for world Tourism day; training for coral propagation program. Photo: Emily Moxham @sustainablemoxi

That’s all for now! Thank you for the interview Emily!

If you want to find out more about Emily and the work she does follow her here @Sustainablemoxi

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‘Into the Industry’ explores the lives and vocations of professionals, academics and those working in the marine biology world