What is the first thing you see when you open your eyes?
Usually my alarm clock, which I always turn to snooze… I’m not a morning person!
How did you come to live and work in the Maldives?
My Dad gave me a £25 gift voucher for Waterstones bookshop when I was at university. I bought a book on the fish of the Maldives even though I had no idea where this country was at the time, or anything about manta rays (I just liked fish). I guess it was fate that I ended up getting a job as a marine biologist after university to work on a dive liveaboard vessel in the Maldives.
What do you feel is unique about being based in the Maldives?
The Maldives is a tropical paradise, comprised of 1,200 islands. It’s a country of tiny specks of land in the vast Indian Ocean; an oasis for manta researchers.
What captivated you the first time you saw a manta ray?
Its grace, its size and its inquisitive nature. When you look into the eye of a manta ray and wonder what it’s thinking, you always get the feeling it’s looking back at you and pondering the same question.
What are your biggest fears for these animals?
That by the time I have kids of my own (although many people told me it would be better if I didn’t) and they’re old enough to have their own encounters with these amazing animals, there won’t be any left in our oceans.
Describe your most exciting moment as a manta researcher…
Diving alone in the middle of a spiraling mass of 150 cyclone feeding manta rays at Hanifaru Bay in the Maldives. Everywhere I looked mantas the size of small cars sped past within inches of my face, their massive mouths agape, hoovering up the dense plankton.
What is your favourite place in the world?
Ha ha… anywhere there are manta rays. But if I had to pick one place, it has to be Hanifaru Bay in the Maldives. There’s nowhere else like it on this planet.
Having started out in the Maldives, the Manta Trust is now active in about 16 countries worldwide promoting the conservation of manta and devil rays and their habitat through research, awareness and education. Three of its current major operations are the Global Mobulid ID Project, which aims to provide a taxonomic, morphological and genetic identification guide to manta and devil rays; the collection of data about ray landings in India, which will inform conservation management in that country; and the Indonesian Manta Project, which works to promote an appreciation of manta and devil rays among local people.