My Interesting Job: Marine Biologist

My Interesting Job: Marine Biologist

Netflix film ‘Seaspiracy’ – which documents the impact of over-fishing and pollution on our oceans and ultimately our futures here on earth – has left a mark on pretty much anyone who’s watched it. And with World Oceans Day taking place on 8th June, we though it timely to hear what it’s like from someone who works in the industry. Enter Emma Bell – is a resident marine biologist at Conrad Maldives Rangali Island. Fortunate enough to work in one of the most beautiful places on earth, here she tells us more about her passion for the ocean, what her work involves and how people can get involved in conservation projects around the world.

Marine biology is the study of the ocean and the organisms that live there. Being a marine biologist encompasses many careers, for example, marine microbiologist, marine policy officer, marine biochemist, deep-sea mining advisor, oil spill response specialist and conservationists. What ties all of these professions together are that they are focused on the ocean. 

My journey to become a marine biologist started very young. One of my first memories was being on holiday and swimming for hours being mesmerised by the fish in the ocean. I gave my mum a heart attack because I was gone so long! Regardless, it didn’t take long for the ocean to become my passion – it’s something that’s a part of us all. Having the opportunity to protect it and inspire others to do the same is something that I’ve always wanted to do. 

Learning to dive at the age of 14 was a turning point. It helped fuel my love for the ocean and it was such an eye-opening experience about how much the ocean needed protecting. When I was diving, I could see it was full of waste – washing machines, bicycles and cars. It made me realise the place I loved was being abused and since then I have made it my mission to protect it.

A background in science has been crucial, too. In secondary school when it came to picking my GCSEs, I chose triple science and once I was at college, my A levels were in physics, biology, human biology, chemistry and – funnily enough – English literature. It gave me the qualifications to study marine biology at degree level before going on to complete a masters in coastal and marine resource management. 

During my studies I completed internships in the UK, the Maldives, the Seychelles and Greece. It’s what led to my full-time job after I graduated, in the Maldives. Despite learning a lot in that first job, it was clear I needed more tools in my arsenal, so I went back to university to complete my masters. However, I couldn’t resist the pull of the Maldives and its unparalleled marine life, so after graduating I came back to work for Ocean Group, where I’m now the resident marine biologist for Conrad Maldives Rangali Island

The Maldives is one of the most beautiful places on earth. It’s full of some of the most endangered marine wildlife in the world, so there’s a lot to protect and learn about. There are also a plenty of encounters between endangered animals and tourists, and this particular situation, if not managed properly, has huge potential for long-term damage and ultimately extinction. Ocean Group works collaboratively with the Conrad Maldives Rangali Island to help them conserve the surrounding area around the resort and maintain their commitment to being a more sustainable brand. The hotel is also located in one of the most flourishing locations for marine life in the Maldives – South Ari Atoll – the ideal location for whale sharks, manta rays and dolphins. 

Our team works with several other organisations – specifically, non-governmental organisations such as Manta Trust, The Olive Ridley Project, The Maldivian Whale Shark Research Programme and the Marine Discovery Centre. Ultimately, working side by side is how we help protect our oceans. 

Every day is always a little bit different. Currently, I run daily informative excursions for guests, so they get the chance to safely see whale sharks, manta rays, turtles and dolphins. I also give educational presentations to guests and team members about conservation, corals and endangered species, and I work with the resort on environmental events such as World Ocean Day and Earth Day. A crucial part of my job is also collecting scientific research to submit to international NGOs and running coral conservation programmes. Because the resort is surrounded by abundant wildlife, I’m always on hand to answer questions and give advice.

Conrad Maldives Rangali Island and Ocean Group have also created two coral restoration projects. Our first coral restoration programme was a coral frame programme launched in 2018, which aims to help develop the existing coral reef. Conrad Maldives Rangali Island now has over 80 coral frames which help make an artificial reef around the resort, encouraging regeneration and attracting marine life. Our newest coral restoration programme launched in 2020 and currently houses over 200 baby corals. Furthermore, we work with the NGO Parley Air to help recycle plastic, contribute to the local Maldivian community via outreach programmes such as the Young Girls Apprenticeship Programme, and introduced hydroponics to help grow food on the island, therefore reducing the carbon footprint.

If you want to work in this field, you have to love the ocean and science. Marine biology is a very diverse field and there’s something for every personality, but if you want to work in the education area it’s good to be enthusiastic and approachable, too – and quite patient.

There are some simple changes people can make to help protect the oceans. Enjoy the environment while following safe snorkelling guidelines; educate yourself on the local animals; support eco-tourism; get involved in environmental events; speak to locals to understand how they live; eat locally sourced foods; avoid using plastics or bringing plastic waste with you; buy reef-safe sunscreen; don’t buy souvenirs or make sure they’re not made using products of endangered animals; dispose of your waste properly and buy clothes made using natural fibres – synthetic fibres always do more damage to the environment.

The best part of my job is helping people get over their fear of the ocean. It’s often seen as a vast and scary place, but by educating people on all the exciting marine life which live there, I can show them what the ocean has to offer. It hopefully means there’s one more person out there who will help support ocean conservation. 

The worst part of my job is seeing all the damage done. The dying coral reefs with graveyards of corals that extend for kilometres, the injuries to animals such as fishing hooks in their eyes, deep cuts from boat propellers, missing limbs from entanglement in fishing lines, and the plastic pollution. 

The highlight of my career has been working with the team at Conrad Maldives Rangali Island. When we installed the new coral conservation project, I conducted a coral workshop to educate our team members and get them involved with the process, and they then helped me to install the coral nursery and plant the first corallines. It really felt like the start of a better era.

The low point of my career was coming across an Olive Ridley sea turtle entangled in a fishing line. It had deep cuts from the fishing line and some of its limbs had been completely or partially self-amputated by its attempt to escape. We transferred the turtle to the hospital, but after surgery, the turtle passed away due to a chronic bone infection caused by the lacerations from the fishing line. It’s these moments that want to make you work even harder. 

If you want to work in this field, you have to love the ocean and science. Marine biology is a very diverse field and there’s something for every personality, but if you want to work in the education area it’s good to be enthusiastic and approachable, too – and quite patient. My advice is to have endless perseverance and always seek out opportunities. It’s important to network and hunt down internships, volunteering opportunities and apprenticeships. 

Some areas of the industry are more male dominated. However, this isn’t the case across the board. There are lots of programmes out there aimed at school children, with the main focus on attracting more girls into science. Exposing younger girls to the diversity of the ocean, alongside the terrible threat and incredible job opportunities is key. It’s also important to ensure there’s a fair hiring procedure in place and equal pay for women, too.

Currently, there’s a lack of paid opportunities for graduates. Many will have to complete unpaid internships before they can be offered a proper job. Even after the completion of several internships, many positions will still require years of experience, which just isn’t possible to achieve as a young graduate. It’s the reason so many budding marine biologists don’t make it all the way into the industry. There’s also very limited funding available for conservation projects. That’s why it is so positive to see hotels like ours collaborating with Ocean Group to increase their support of local conservation efforts. 

World Oceans Day is an annual event, this year taking place on 8th June. It allows everyone to reflect on the ocean and hopefully encourages people to protect it, with this year’s theme being ‘Life and Livelihood’. Personally, it gives me the opportunity and the platform to raise awareness and to educate people on what we can all do. It’s a pertinent reminder, too, that being a marine biologist isn’t just about swimming with the fishes. There’s a lot of things that go into it: research, education, science and more – believe me, there are plenty of aspects that aren’t glamourous.

Emma Bell is a resident marine biologist at Conrad Maldives Rangali Island. Visit and for more information.

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