15 QUESTIONS WITH THE MALDIVES MARINE BIOLOGIST AT COCO BODU HITHI, SONIA VALLADARES

Jul, 30 2018

Say hello to Sonia, the delightful resident Marine Biologist at Coco Bodu Hithi. Sonia comes to us from Spain, where she completed her PhD at the University of Vigo. She has been a member of the Coco Family since 2016 and has been dedicated to developing awareness activities for guests and associates, and to contributing to marine environment conservation in the Maldives.

1. How does a typical morning start for you at Coco Bodu Hithi?

I begin my day with a fabulous breakfast at Air restaurant- a freshly squeezed orange juice and a cappuccino are never to be missed. Then I go to my office, check emails and the schedule for the day, and at 10am I start my first snorkelling trip of the day. 

2. What do you love most about working at Coco Bodu Hithi?

Coco Bodu Hithi is a great island where you can easily spot the most amazing marine life in Maldives just by snorkelling, which makes it a perfect work destination for a marine biologist. Around the island and nearby there are beautiful reefs with colourful and healthy corals, and it’s possible to see reef sharks and sea turtles on a daily basis. 

We also have the amazing manta rays visiting a reef near Bodu Hithi from December to April. The easy access to marine life is really convenient to carry out my field work and for collecting data for the main research programs I collaborate with, but also of course to have an amazing underwater experience.

3. Favourite turtle at the Bodu Hithi house reef?

Everyone knows and loves Chloe, one of our resident sea turtles. She was also the first sea turtle I spotted on my very first day snorkelling at the house reef.

4. Favourite dive spot in North Male’ atoll?

Bodu Hithi Thila is a good one- it’s very close to our resort.

5. Which marine biology projects are you currently working on?

The main research project I work on is the Sea Turtle Identification project, in collaboration with the Olive Ridley Project, a charity with which Coco Collection has an official partnership. I focus on the local population of Hawksbill sea turtles living on our house reef and the surrounding reefs of Bodu Hithi island. I take pictures of every sea turtle I encounter and identify the individuals by photo identification using the unique facial scale patterns. We have a sea turtle adoption program that consists of naming a sea turtle that has being newly identified, and I keep their adopters updated about future sightings. 

When we have manta season in the Bodu Hithi area, I take the guest to snorkel with these wonderful giants and collect data for the Manta Trust and Manta Matcher organizations that study the population of manta rays in the Maldives. Like the sea turtle project, I identify the mantas by photo identification, in this case using the spots located on the ventral surface of the mantas.

6. What’s the most interesting marine creature you’ve ever seen?

It’s so hard to choose! There are reef manta rays, oceanic manta rays, whale sharks, dolphins…but my top ones are the seahorses, a fascinating marine creature. I even did my PhD on seahorses!

7. Whale sharks or manta rays?

I love both! They are both such gentle giants of the sea. 

8. Your favourite spot on the island?

The spa beach, it is a beautiful long and calm beach perfect for a good rest. 

9. What’s your ideal day-off like on the island?

Relaxing and sunbathing on the beach and doing some watersports.

10. Your go-to tropical drink?

A refreshing piña colada.

11. 3 most important things to remember when snorkelling?

Use proper equipment, never be overconfident in the water and of course, don’t touch marine life. 

12. What’s your favourite watersports activity?

Definitely scuba diving. I started in 2004 and in 2016 became a professional diver after completing my Divemaster training. 

13. What’s your ideal Maldivian holiday like? 

Combining peaceful white sandy beach and great diving spots, which can only happen in the Maldives. 

14. You’ve been in the Maldives for almost 2 years; what is the most attractive feature about this county?

The crystal-clear waters, sandy white beaches, and abundant sea life in the coral reefs. 

15. As a Marine Biologist, tell us 3 simple things we can do to help protect the ocean?

Everyone can do some simple yet effective actions to protect our oceans. 

1. Reduce the pollution to our oceans: conserve water – less water you use, less waste water goes to the ocean. 
Dispose your trash properly – don’t throw it to the ocean as can harm the marine life and reduce the use of plastics – one of the main pollutants in our oceans. 

2. Do not support the trade of marine life souvenirs and do not collect any marine life, dead or alive. 

3. Support sustainable fisheries.