A Person In A Fish Tank

Citizen Science


Conversation 5 minute read


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Lisa D'Silva

Our oceans are one of the most important parts of our global climate system. As sea levels rise and temperatures creep up, safeguarding the health of our underwater environment has never been more important. Here, we speak to Lisa D’Silva, resident marine biologist at COMO in the Maldives, about the ways in which COMO Cocoa Island and COMO Maalifushi are supporting the marine environment.  

What is the general state of the underwater environment around COMO Cocoa Island and COMO Maalifushi?

We’re lucky to be surrounded by some of the Maldives’ richest reefs and most pristine seas. But with that comes huge responsibility. We’re constantly monitoring data on the ecological state of our ocean so that we can put best conservation practices in place. We have a Sustainability Team, who pioneer initiatives from reef health-checks to monthly island clean-ups. We also partner with global networks such as Parley for the Oceans, recycling our limited plastic waste into other products so that ocean-bound plastics are intercepted. 


What kinds of marine animals live in the Maldives, and how do you protect them?

The Maldives Islands are one of the world’s top dive and snorkelling destinations for a reason, with some key megafauna, from vulnerable turtles to endangered whale sharks. Surveys are one of the best ways that we can protect our wildlife: we monitor sightings and identify shark and ray species, as well as dolphins, whales, sea turtles, and ecologically important fish species and invertebrates.

A Turtle Swimming In The Ocean
A School Of Fish Swimming In The Ocean
A Shark Swimming Underwater

Sea turtles and whale sharks are two of the Maldives’ icon species. How do you work to conserve them?

For sea turtles, we work with the Olive Ridley Project to collect data around South Malé Atoll, where COMO Cocoa Island is located. We identify each turtle using the unique scales on both sides of its face — if we can recognise individuals, then we can track the population and make sure it stays stable. We also collect data on the whale sharks we encounter, monitoring their behaviour and any injuries they might have sustained. They’re a truly incredible sight, growing up to 18 metres long. Like sea turtles, whale sharks have unique identifying features: each has a different pattern of spots on its body. We send all our data to the Maldives Whale Shark Research Programme, which recommends cutting-edge, community-led conservation initiatives.

How do you make sure that guest encounters are not damaging to wild sea creatures?

We have a Code of Conduct which we follow every time we spot cetaceans, including dolphins and whales. This ensures that encounters are safe and not stressful for the animal. We use this to continually refine and improve the way we interact with these wild creatures.

How do guests help?

If you spot a whale shark, a sea turtle, or even just a patch of particularly colourful coral, we record that data and use it to keep track of our local species. Any photos you take of megafauna can help us identify individuals and understand population densities.

A Close-up Of Coral
A Boy Standing Next To A Chair On A Beach

We're constantly monitoring data
on the ecological state of our ocean
so that we can out best conservation
practices in place.

A Whale Swimming In The Water
A Coral Reef Under Water

What part does coral play in ensuring a healthy ocean?

Corals are clusters of hundreds of individual animals, called polyps. They cover less than one percent of the ocean floor, yet support 25 percent of all marine life. Coral reefs are like the world’s underwater cities. But coral is vulnerable to bleaching under high temperatures, leaving both the polyps and the species that live among them at risk. We run a successful coral propagation programme at both COMO Maalifushi and COMO Cocoa Island. At both properties, small coral fragments are attached to special frames, which we place close together over a damaged area of the reef. Once fully grown, the corals cover the frames entirely and function as a natural reef. It’s amazing how quickly marine life recovers given a fighting chance. 

And what about ocean plants?

Seagrass is an important indicator of ocean health. This flowering plant has adapted to life underwater and stores carbon, acts as a buffer against big waves, stabilises the seafloor to stop islands eroding and filters nutrients to improve water quality. On top of all that, seagrass also plays a vital role in acting as a nursery habitat for commercially important fish — the ecosystem services seagrass provides to fishing and tourism industries are valued at US$19,000 per hectare, per year. At COMO Cocoa Island, we have an expansive seagrass meadow — it’s a great place for snorkelling.

A School Of Fish Swimming In The Ocean
A Yellow And Black Spotted Object
A School Of Fish Swimming
A Fish Swimming In Water

How do you ensure the sustainable initiatives you champion have a real and lasting impact?

In addition to the real-time, visible effects of our sustainability and conservation initiatives, we are committed to education as the cornerstone of lasting change. We’re on hand to explain the significance of each species, and to help you identify anything from a whale shark to a hermit crab. We particularly encourage kids to get involved — after all, they’re the future of our world. We are developing a Junior Marine Biology Programme at COMO Cocoa Island which will teach kids about the Maldives’ different underwater habitats, its megafauna, conservation and scientific studies. Kids will be able to help make coral frames and visit each year to see the progress their individual contribution is making to our oceans’ health. It’s inspiring and motivating for kids to see their individual actions flourish.


If you’re interested in learning more about the oceans around COMO Cocoa Island and COMO Maalifushi, or want to have the chance to interact with some of the Maldives’ marine life for yourself, our team can help plan your visit here.

COMO Maalifushi  |  E. maalifushi@comohotels.com  |  T. +960 678 0001

COMO Cocoa Island  |  E. cocoaisland@comohotels.com  |  T. +960 664 1818