Set in the heart of the protected UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, the small boutique island of Milaidhoo is making waves as the most anticipated new resort to open its doors in the Maldives. It’s not often you have the run of your own tropical island – but at Milaidhoo, it’s as if it’s all yours from shore to shore, an emerald drop of paradise in the Baa Atoll. The jewel in Milaidhoo’s crown, however, is the outstanding house reef that encircles the palm fringed shores… We caught up with Milaidhoo’s resident marine biologist Nina Rothe to explore the world beneath the waves…
It is hard to pinpoint exactly how or when it happened as I think my passion for the ocean was always present in a way. During my studies in Applied Biology, I became interested in conservation and protecting the environment and more and more realised how important the oceans are for the survival of our beautiful planet and how we all must work together to protect them.
What does your role as the resident marine biologist at Milaidhoo involve? Are there any projects that you are working on at the moment?
Part of my job involves checking on our coral nursery… we have a coral regeneration project where we ‘plant’ coral fragments and build an artificial reef with the help of our guests who can sponsor coral frames. My team and I will also be monitoring our reef throughout the next years, in association with different international institutions, to determine reef health and predict possible threats. We also provide data to several local and international organisations such as Manta Trust, an organisation that works to conserve manta rays worldwide. Another is the Olive Ridley Project, that works to remove ghost nets (nets that have been discarded, abandoned or lost in the ocean) from the Indian Ocean to prevent negative impact on marine life- particularly the entanglement of marine turtles like the Olive Ridley Turtle.
Of course, I spend a lot of my time with guests, taking them snorkelling on the reef and on other excursions to see what’s in the water so they can learn more about our beautiful underwater world. For guests who are keen to learn more about the coral ecosystem and threats to the ocean, I host evening presentations open for everyone to join- including our Milaidhoo family!
The location in the beautiful Baa Atoll, a Unesco Biosphere reserve was obviously a big factor. I also loved the concept of Milaidhoo employees working together as a family and providing tailor-made experiences for our guest and helping them in writing their own ‘story of a small island’. Knowing that everyone is very keen on keeping everything natural and protecting the reef and the environment made me want to start working here and changing things for the better.
Being in the UNESCO biosphere reserve, the house reef at Milaidhoo is incredible! What are some of the marine life guests can expect to see?
Shoals of fusiliers, mackerel, jackfish, triggerfish and snappers. Beautifully coloured butterflyfish, spawning surgeonfish and lots of anemonefish (Nemos). You can also encounter turtles, eagle rays, stingrays (especially in the lagoon), juvenile lemon sharks, moray eels, hermit crabs and it’s not uncommon to have a few dolphins visit our reef. It is impossible to list all the different species as the marine life on Milaidhoo Reef is abundant and the fish life is amazing.
Yes, it was a popular destination for day excursions! The reef topography is very interesting. The top reef is very shallow and partly exposed at low tide. The reef encircles the island almost completely and descends in both slopes and drop-offs. Lots of schooling fish can be seen on most parts of the reef edge and some places have a lot of juveniles of different species.
What are some of your favourite snorkelling/ diving experiences that you offer?
Our most-popular snorkelling excursions include the ‘All about Nemo’ excursion on Milaidhoo Reef and the Turtle Expedition by boat where our guests can learn everything about ‘Nemo’ or turtles.
Our boat can take our guests to amazing dive sites where everyone will find their favourite spot underwater. Night diving or night snorkelling is always a highlight as you seem to enter a completely different world from the one you have been exploring during the day and discover all the nocturnal creatures of the reef.
From around May to November the highlight is, of course, the incredible Manta Experience at Hanifaru Bay! This is where you can snorkel with the world’s largest groupings of manta rays- there are dozens! Hanifaru Bay is a Marine Protected Area which underlies a strict management plan to protect these gentle and majestic creatures and we are very lucky to be able to witness them in their natural habitat.
There is a wonderful house reef in the back garden of the over water villas… Do you have any tips or favourite spots for snorkelling?
Milaidhoo Reef offers several really great snorkelling spots for both beginners and advanced snorkelers. My favourite area starts when I snorkel off the Serenity Spa to the edge of the reef and turn to the right towards the beach villas. Here you’ll find lots of swarming fish of different species and additionally a lot of other details to discover.
Can you tell us about some of the effects of global warming- is there anything our guests can get involved with to help protect the coral and marine life?
Climate change and global warming are one of the biggest threats to our coral reefs. Rising ocean temperatures can stress coral polyps, causing them to expel algae that live in their tissue and provide them with food. The result is ‘coral bleaching’ because it’s the algae that give the corals their colour. Without the algae in their tissue, the coral turns white and is no longer provided food which it needs to survive. Corals can survive bleaching events (depending on the time frame of increased water temperatures) but are less resistant to diseases and at higher risk of dying.
Increasing carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere cause oceans to become more acidic because the ocean absorbs the atmosphere’s excess carbon dioxide. Corals grow by producing calcium carbonate (their skeleton). Ocean acidification slows down the rate of coral growth or decreases the structural integrity and stability of corals’ skeletons which poses a real threat for coral reefs.
There are several things we can do to protect coral reefs and marine life. Everyone can easily reduce their carbon footprint by choosing public transportation, cutting down on meat consumption or simply saving energy at home. We can reduce the amount of garbage we produce and especially, the amount that ends up in the ocean. Reuse, reduce and recycle is a mantra that works in all aspects of protecting the environment. When exploring coral reefs, guests should always learn responsible diving and snorkelling and follow the environmental rules provided by our Ocean Stories Team.
I get to add a little bit to the reef’s health every day, be it by actively cleaning up, planting some coral fragments or raising awareness about the topic in my marine presentations and on excursions.
Do you have any favourite of unforgettable moments in the sea?
I have hundreds! If I had to pick just one, it would be the time I encountered two dolphins on Milaidhoo Reef and one curious one swam up to me for a second. It was just an amazing feeling and it’s those beautiful experiences that endorse my love for the ocean and its protection.
Your story of a small island is just waiting to be written…