Studying hard and spending her spare time networking and volunteering gave Kylie the opportunity to land her dream job as a Resident Marine Biologist. She believes that education and positive experiences are the key to making people appreciate the marine environment and spends her time making sure this happens. Her advice to budding marine conservationists is to get practical experience and contact lots of different organisations to find out how to get involved. It has clearly worked for her!
Name: Kylie Merritt
Job Title: Resident Marine Biologist
Organisation: One&Only Reethi Rah, Maldives
- What inspired you to pursue a career in marine conservation?
Ever since I was young, I have loved the ocean. I didn’t live anywhere near it (!!) but I would read books, watch documentaries and make posters about different marine animals. From a young age I was already telling everyone I wanted to be a Marine Biologist when I grew up. As I got older, I learned more about the impacts that humans are having on our marine environment and I wanted to learn more so that I could help to educate people about the importance of our oceans and marine ecosystems and how we can work to protect them.
- What steps did you take/are you taking to achieve your career goals?
In high school I was already looking for ways that I could get involved with marine life. I did work experience at the Melbourne Aquarium and that reinforced to me that I wanted to work in a role which educated others about our marine environments.
I completed my Bachelor of Environmental Science (Marine Biology) at Deakin University on the south west coast of Victoria, Australia and went on to do Honours after my undergraduate degree. During my undergrad degree, I also completed Certificate III in Tourism Guiding with the Victorian Marine Science Consortium to increase my skills for ecotourism job prospects. During my time at university, I spent holidays and weekends volunteering with different organisations, including coastcare groups, a marine discovery centre and any other marine environment related organisations that would have me! I also assisted PhD students at my university with their field work.
After I completed my university degree, I applied for a 1 month volunteer position in the Maldives at the beginning of 2012. Because of my degree and past volunteer experience, I was offered a 3 month team leader position for a Marine Conservation project on a local island, conducting reef and fish surveys and working with local communities to educate them about the marine environment. It was my first time out of Australia and I fell in love with the amazing beauty of the Maldives and its amazing underwater world. I loved it so much that I stayed on with the volunteer organisation for another 12 months, until I landed my current job.
To this day I am still networking and connecting with different organisations to gain more knowledge of the marine conservation projects happening around the world.
- How did you land your current job/position?
I was in the right place at the right time! I saw a job advertised on Coral List for a Marine Biology intern at One&Only Reethi Rah and I decided to apply! By this stage I had already been in Maldives for around 18 months and had gained a lot of valuable contacts of people who were also either working, conducting research or volunteering on marine-related projects in the Maldives. It just happened that a few weeks after I applied for the position, the resident Marine Biologist was going on vacation and needed a replacement. The person who would usually work as her replacement was busy working on another project, so she contacted me to see if I would do it! I of course jumped at the opportunity, and because I was already being trained as the replacement, they gave me the intern positon! That was October 2013, the beginning of my time at One&Only Reethi Rah. After 12 months working as the MB intern, I was offered a permanent position and have since moved up to take the resident Marine Biologist position.
- Which part of your job do you enjoy the most?
The most rewarding part of my job is seeing the reaction from people after they have their first snorkel or dive experience. There have been so many times when I have been out on an excursion and someone will tell me they don’t want to get in the water as they are afraid. When I manage to convince them to just give it a try, it almost always ends up that this particular person is the last person to want to get out of the water! Knowing that I’ve changed peoples fear of the ocean into fascination is such a rewarding feeling, and I truly believe that those positive experiences give people a new appreciation for our marine environments. I also love the excitement from children and their endless questions about sea creatures.
- Are there aspects of your position which make you feel that you are really ‘making a difference’?
Education and positive experiences are the key to making people appreciate their environment. No matter where we live in the world, we are connected to the ocean. In my day-to-day work I aim to make a difference by teaching or showing people something new and igniting that spark in people to give them a positive connection with the marine environment. When I receive emails from resort guests showing me pictures of the posters their children made about sea turtles to take to school, or when people ask me advice on their own practices and how they can have less of an environmental footprint – these little things make me feel like I’m making a difference. I have also witnessed a big change in behaviour from many people I spend time with, in the way that they see their environment, showing more care and appreciation for the beautiful marine life.
- What do you know now that you wish you knew when you were starting out?
There are some things you just cannot learn in a classroom or from a text book. Practical experience is also a HUGE part of learning. For example, I spent hours and hours in classes learning about oceanography, currents, waves, tides and weather patterns. This was of course valuable information, to understand what drives these forces. However, I soon learnt that none of that really matters when you are out at sea! I work with a wonderful local Maldivian man who never went to school (nope, not at all!) and he is the first person I go to when I want to get an idea of what the weather will be doing for the day! He just needs to look at the sky, look at the water and he can tell me exactly what is happening with the weather, tides and currents! This kind of knowledge comes from practical experience, not from textbooks!
(Please note: I still think going to school is very important!)
- Are there any skills you never thought you would need but did?
I never thought photography would be such an important skill in my role! A large part of my work involves taking identification shots of sea turtles and manta rays, as well as photographing different fish and coral species for surveys. My guests love to have their photos taken underwater too! Getting the right angles for the identification shots is important and the pictures need to be very clear, so I have had to work a lot on my underwater photography skills.
- What advice would you give to budding marine conservationists?
Get as much practical experience as you can! There are lots of valuable resources online nowadays which can connect you with NGOs, volunteer organisations and internships. Email these organisations, find out how you can get involved. If you have local enviro groups, get involved with them too. All of this experience is great for your CV and will also help you to gain valuable contacts for jobs! Sign up to mailing lists like Coral List and WiseOceans, follow influential ‘enviro people’ in social media and just get yourself out there as much as you can!
- What is your favourite marine creature and why?
Definitely the Manta Ray! I cannot explain the feeling of absolute excitement, admiration and love I feel every single time I see a manta ray. These gentle giants are so inquisitive and it is amazing to see them watching you in the water as they swim past or hover next to you on the reef.
- What is your most unforgettable moment in the sea?
I have had some very special moments in the sea with friends, family, colleagues and an amazing array of marine life over the years, but one of the best would have to be swimming alone with 40+ feeding manta rays in Hanifaru Bay in Baa Atoll, Maldives in July 2015. To be surrounded by these amazing creatures is the most wonderful feeling ever!
We must agree that mantas are amazing creatures and we are confident that your enthusiasm is rubbing off on those lucky enough to get a snorkel with you!
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