Into The Industry: Maldivian Resort Marine Biologist
Tash Prokop is the Head Marine Biologist at the Maldives Underwater Initiative based at Six Senses Laamu, the only resort found in the Laamu Atoll, in the Indian Ocean. This luxury resort has on-land and over-water villas, and prides itself on its sustainability initiatives both above and below the water. We chatted with Tash about her day job, her passions, and what keeps her working hard.
In 2018, Six Senses was named Winner of Green Hotelier’s Community Award, and was a runner up for the Responsible Hotel of the Year. They also won the Leading Eco-Resort at the Maldives Travel Awards and the Skäl Sustainable Tourism Award in the Marine and Coastal category, all in 2018.
Hey Tash, tell us a bit about yourself.
I grew up in Perth, Western Australia right next to the ocean. I started out my career in marine research but over time I moved more and more towards science communication and marine conservation. I love that this career path allows me to inspire people to love science and the ocean the way I do.
What about Six Senses Laamu makes it unique?
Six Senses Laamu is the only resort in Laamu atoll, one of 26 coral atolls in the Maldives. As such, we take a great deal of responsibility for community education and outreach and maintaining the health of marine environment. We have one of the largest teams of marine biologists in the country (the Maldives Underwater Initiative), which includes staff from our 3 partner NGOs (the Manta Trust, Blue Marine Foundation [BLUE] and Olive Ridley Project) as well as sustainability and community outreach managers. I’m the Head Marine Biologist at MUI, so I help manage the team and tie together the 3 NGOs and the resort to ensure we are all working towards shared conservation goals. Six Senses really tries to go above and beyond in its sustainability and conservation initiatives. For example, while many resorts in the Maldives actively remove their seagrass meadows but at Six Senses Laamu we protect our 5 hectares of seagrass. We’re not just interested in conservation within the resort though, we’ve just launched a campaign (alongside our partner, BLUE) to raise awareness about seagrass removal and to encourage resorts to protect, rather than remove their seagrass. Anyone that’s reading this can sign our online petition at www.protectmaldivesseagrass.com to help us drive change at a national level.
You’ve built your life around the ocean. What drew you to it in the first place?
My dad is a mad keen fisherman. Think ‘rooms dedicated to lures, writing articles and books on fishing’-type keen. Contrary to what most people would think, he’s a fisher and also conservationist; albeit a sceptical one. He taught me to value marine life and also to question the status quo, not just believing what I read or what those around me say is true. Growing up, I was always on the water with my dad and while he always wanted to pull fish up out of the water, what really interested me was to imagine what kind of lives the fish lived under the water. The idea that we need to conserve marine life and that I would pursue a career in this field seemed intuitive.
What does a day in your life look like?
I get asked this question a lot by guests and it’s a tough one because my job is so varied! Firstly, I wake up in a room nestled in the jungle and cycle my bicycle 5-minutes into work on the other side of the island. As I walk to the office across overwater jetties raised above shallow blue waters I’ll check over the sides for baby blacktip reef sharks cruising by. Finally, I’ll arrive at my desk overlooking the ocean and a nearby uninhabited island where we often see spinner dolphins passing by on their way into the atoll to rest in shallow lagoons. During the day I might do a survey in our seagrass beds, lead a guest snorkel, give a presentation or visit a local island to conduct a snorkel lesson. Aside from the fun in-water activities, I also spend a lot of time on land at my laptop, managing schedules and touching base with experts around the world on possible collaborations.
What do you think has been the impact of some of your outreach in the past?
Outreach for me just means reaching out and taking science (or other disciplines) to people. I’ve done this in schools within cities, in remote communities in Australia and local schools and communities overseas in locations like Fiji and Indonesia. As a scientist, these experiences have had a profound impact on me. I’ve now fallen in love with showing people the things I‘m passionate about, rather than just doing research in a lab.
As scientists, many of us find it difficult to convey the importance of our research to the public. Do you have any tips you’d like to give our readers to improve their own writing?
You have to stop thinking like a scientist. Whatever your local sphere of influence, you tend to start thinking like them. If you’re surrounded by other researchers and having their perspectives reflected back at you, you will likely be out of touch with what lay people are thinking about science; you’ll find it difficult to image yourself in their shoes and to consider what motivates them or what drives the daily decisions they make. To write something that will appeal to a general audience, you have to consider what they will find interesting. You also need to let go of some of the details that you, as a scientist, feel are so crucial but which detract from the interesting part of the story, i.e. the reason people are reading it in the first place.
Whose work has influenced and inspired you?
I have a bit of an ‘organisation crush’ on the Misool Foundation in Raja Ampat in Indonesia. They are the non-profit arm of a dive resort, Misool Eco Resort and they do amazing work in the community designating MPAs and working towards more sustainable livelihoods. Their community outreach efforts rock. I completed my PADI Divemaster course in Raja Ampat and I’ve seen how big a challenge these conservation and sustainability goals are in isolated and under-supported communities. The Misool Foundation has been working for a decade towards these goals. Where they are currently, I hope our work in Laamu will be within the next 5 years (or less).