July 26, 2017

Me And Shaha Snorkelling 1 1600x1200 1

Shareefa Ali, having just graduated from Maldives National University with a Bachelor of Science in Environmental Management, was taken on as an intern for eight weeks on BLUE’s project in the Maldives.  

Ever since I can remember, I have been passionate about the marine environment so I knew deciding to study environmental science at university was one of the best decisions I ever made. But when I finished my degree, I really struggled to find a job because most of the jobs I wanted required applicants with work experience which I didn’t have. However, eventually I got lucky because after three months of applying for jobs, I was accepted as an intern for the Maldives Grouper Fishery and Conservation Project with the Blue Marine Foundation, based on Laamu Atoll.

My very first task on the project was to assist Vivienne and Shaha with their grouper sampling field work,in Vaavu Atoll. On the first day we went to visit the grouper cage to select the groupers that we would be sampling. I had never seen a commercial grouper cage before and it was very shocking to see the volume of groupers in each of the nets and how small they were, compared to those I had seen previously in Kaafu Atoll. For the first couple of days, I was in charge of recording data while the girls were busy cutting open the fish; but after one or two days they taught me how to identify and remove the gonads and otoliths of groupers. At first I had no idea how to differentiate between an immature gonad and a maturing one because I had never done anything like it before, but then after much help from Vivienne and Shaha it slowly became much easier and by the end I felt like a professional!

Returning to Six Senses Laamu was an exciting adventure for me as I had never been to a resort in the Maldives before. Every day working as intern was different, and every day I learnt something new. Shaha and Vivienne encouraged me to get involved in a range of environment related projects so that I could gain as much experience as possible. I worked with two resort staff, Megan O’ Beirne, (Sustainability Manager) and Jenni Choma,  (Marine Biologist), to develop educational materials for guests on a range of topics.

As well as desk based activities I also had many opportunities to  gain practical field experience. I joined guests and hosts for a beach clean-up on a local island to raise awareness about plastic pollution and also assisted a UNDP (United National Development Programme) team while they carried out some terrestrial surveys identifying local flora, which I thoroughly enjoyed.

Vivienne and Shaha and the marine team at the resort regularly visit local islands to carry out educational and awareness sessions with the communities. I loved it when we took the school children from Hithadhoo to the mangroves to teach them about ecosystem connectivity because I have a beautiful mangrove on my local island which I spent much of my childhood exploring.

Vivienne and Shaha took me out snorkelling as much as they could to help me become more confident in the water and have helped me to conquer my fear of the ocean. My mother always prevented me from going into the deeper areas of the ocean because she was scared that something would happen to me which is probably why I don’t know how to swim very well. However, I am no longer fearful thanks to them and once I felt confident I absolutely loved it! Each time I went out, I saw something new and it totally amazed me. Once, Shaha came running, to show me a seahorse that she found while she was snorkelling on the seagrass beds. A seahorse has only been spotted at the resort once before; – it was mesmerizing! I also had my first experience of seeing a turtle, a black tip reef shark, a mantis shrimp and a lionfish. When I joined Vivienne and Shaha on the dive boat, they took my snorkelling during the surface interval and just as we got in, I saw my first manta ray. It was beautiful and majestic!

At the very end of my internship, we travelled to the northern part of Laamu to interview grouper fishermen. Mostly, I listened and entered data while Shaha carried out the interviews. However, Vivienne and Shaha encouraged me to do an interview under their supervision. It was difficult for me even though I had seen Shaha do it several times before because I was nervous and I found it difficult to rephrase the questions so that it flowed like a conversation but nonetheless it was an experience for me.

My internship with BLUE was an informative journey. It really opened my mind to a lot of issues and topics that I didn’t know about and to be honest, I hadn’t even thought about before. Learning so much about the surrounding seas of my home country through fishermen interviews and from the resort and project staff astonished me. Even though we Maldivians are surrounded by the ocean, I believe we know very little about it.

I will forever remember this time in my life that I spent working as an intern on this project. I want to say thank you to BLUE and Six Senses Laamu for giving me this opportunity and for being so welcoming during my stay. I also want to give special thanks to Vivienne and Shaha for always being there when I needed help and mostly because they helped me to be more confident in deeper waters.

Taking Shareefa on as an intern for BLUE was part of our Education and Environmental Awareness programme and capacity building work to promote and encourage local conservationists in the Maldives. Since completing her internship with BLUE, Shareefa has subsequently secured a job at the Ministry of Environment and Energy as an environmental analyst and we wish her all the best in her new endeavours!