Crystal clear and turquoise water with uncountable colourful animals hidden in its coral reefs and palm trees that provide you with shade from the continuously shining sun… what sounds like the advert for an exquisite holiday in a far-away paradise, could also be the description of your next research location.
After my first stay in the Maldives for a research study on plastic contamination of a remote island ecosystems in 2015, I decided to return to this astonishing country for collecting data and conducting experiments for my Master’s thesis in biology. The aim of my research project is to understand how different human activities affect small island ecosystems. To answer this questions, I investigate exemplarily the hermit crabs, which everyone probably knows from their summer holidays when they are crawling between the towels over the beach. I want to compare their populations on islands, which are inhabited by the local Maldivian population and mainly used for fishery, with those that are used as tourist destinations and those that are completely uninhabited and therefore have no direct human impact.
After months of planning and preparing everything for this project and looking for a suitable marine biology field station, I luckily came across the Atoll Volunteers, which welcomed me to stay with them on their island, Naifaru. Although their marine centre is mainly laid out for their turtle rehabilitation program, I’m now more than happy that I can use their facilities and accommodation for doing my own research project. Especially the well-established connection to the local Maldivians and the great support from Sarah, the volunteer coordinator, who always helps me to get a boat and captain to access the other islands, making my research here so pleasant and stress-free.
To work in a place where others usually come for their holidays is a very interesting experience and I can only encourage everyone to go for it, if you get the possibility. Just imagine you can watch dolphins, reef sharks and stingrays, while you conduct your experiments on the beach or enjoy an astonishing sunset while sampling!
Even the local Maldivians seemed to be quite interested in what I’m doing on their island, so prepare yourself to debate your sampling methods and procedure with the curious fishermen that walk past your study site. For me, it was very amusing to see how the fascination for my study organism, the hermit crabs, slowly spread across the island and the atoll, because more and more people were coming back to me (to the “boy that does hermit crabs”, as I was called one time) and telling me quite excitedly about their latest hermit crab siting and even gave me some local insider information: Najah, a Maldivian that works on one of the resorts, told me that you can get them out of their shells by whispering to the shell – curiously it really worked!
In that way, I’m enjoying my work here on Naifaru more than I did on a normal marine biology station, where you have only scientists around you and basically everyone only cares for their own experiments. To wrap it up: If you want to break out of your lab routine and make a great new experience with your research work, Atoll Volunteers on Naifaru is a place where you will feel welcome not only as a volunteer, but also as a research scientist and can enjoy a great time with lots of interesting people from all around the world during your time abroad!