This week we meet our new Marine Biologist, Alex Stead. Alex will be with us for the next 12 months running Atoll Marine Centre and our conservation and outreach projects. Read on to hear about Alex’s background, his dramatic arrival and exciting plans for the next year ahead with Atoll Volunteers!
Hi Alex! So lets start with the basics, where are originally from?
Originally I was from Sydney Australia and moved to the Gold Coast when I was 13 which was where I became interested in marine biology and completed my studies.
How did you hear about the Marine Biologist post at Atoll Volunteers?
One of my university friends, Azim who is from the Maldives, was helping me scout for Marine Biologist positions and sent me a link to the position. After doing some research on the local islands, the position and the potential to expand and grow their current program, especially their coral gardening efforts, I was committed to doing my best to secure the position.
And it all turned out great! Is this your first time in the Maldives?
I’ve spent some time traveling through Indonesia and Malaysia, but I had never been to the Maldives before I started work here.
Where’s the best place you’ve been in the world?
Heron island, which is located in the southern Great Barrier Reef, whilst doing my bachelor degree. It’s a really small island, however the reefs around the island were amazing, teaming with life, including migrating humpback whales.
Have you had much previous experience with turtles and marine conservation?
I’ve worked with nesting turtles and hatchlings over a couple of seasons in northern Queensland at Mon Repo, which was mostly with the rare loggerhead turtles and flat backs. During this program we relocated turtle nest where necessary, tagged mums and calculated success rates for each nest along the beach.
Other marine conservation programs I’ve been involved with include conducting humpback whale surveys along the east coast of Australia with the NGO Humpbacks and Highrises where we perform a census on the whales migrating along the coast, taking ID fluke shots and recording behaviours, which was very enjoyable work.
What’s your favourite marine animal and why?
I’ve always loved fish. I used to thoroughly enjoy fishing and even just observing them whilst snorkelling and diving. Watching them interact with each other and their environment, whether it be among mangroves, rock walls or reef environments. Their behaviour has always fascinated me. However “fish” isn’t very specific. I could narrow it down to game fish which are particularly interesting, but to give a cliche answer, you can’t go past the most misunderstood fish; sharks. There’s always such a relaxed, but at the same time heighten, vibe when you’re in the water with sharks, especially when they are bigger than you, it’s sort of humbling.
We heard you didn’t have the easiest journey to Naifaru…
Hahaha, no not the easiest journey, but I made it in the end. I narrowly made my connecting flight from Singapore to Male, however my bags weren’t as quick as I was, and they missed the flight. Unfortunately, my boat to Naifaru from Male was cancelled due to bad weather, but I was lucky enough to get a sea plane to a nearby resort, from where I was then able to make it to my new home. Although I only had a laptop with no charge and the clothes I was wearing for 4 days, luckily my new family made sure I was set up with enough to survive until my bags arrived.
What are you going to miss most about home?
I would probably have to say burritos… And of course friends and family.
How is the experience meeting your expectations so far?
I have more freedom and responsibilities than I expected which is amazing and I’m really excited to step up and get some good work done! I knew the coral here was massively affected during the last bleaching event however, it was still shocking to see how bad it really is. For me, this further highlights the need and urgency to maintain and improve the coral propagation effort around the island and atoll.
What are you most excited about for the next year?
I’m really excited to take the coral garden program recently established here to the next level and see how it develops. However, I think what I’m most excited about is meeting a lot of the amazing people here and seeing the work they do, hopefully learning a lot from them, and therefore grow into a better Marine Biologist able to contribute more to the conservation efforts here in the Maldives.
If you had to give one piece of advice to anyone coming to atoll volunteers (Marine Biologist or volunteer) what would it be?
#1 bring spare clothes in you’re carry on bag!
For Marine Biologists, have a vague plan of what you want to achieve, do your research and be proactive to make it happen.
Thanks Alex, and welcome to Atoll Volunteers! It’s going to be an exciting year!