This week on ‘An Interview with WiseOceans’ we spoke with our own Amrita Pai, in Seychelles.
Name: Amrita Pai
Role: Marine Biologist and Educator
Top Tip: Raising awareness about how we are impacting the world with our daily actions and what we can do to make a difference is a good place to start
Quick Fire Questions
1. What inspired you to pursue a career in marine conservation?
I have been interested in many different fields of study since my school days, but living by the coast and exploring the sea has always been a constant in my life. My school had a marine aquarium section with which I was involved from a young age all the way through to college. I learned to feed the fish, maintain the aquaria, and note down observations every day. I also learned free diving and later scuba diving, and was taught the useful discipline of maintaining a regular dive log. I studied Marine Biology in school and college. Although I did a Masters in Anglo-Irish Literature and Drama out of interest, I went on to work as a PADI Divemaster in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands before becoming an Open Water Instructor and teaching Marine Biology at my alma mater in India. More recently, I also helped build and maintain artificial reefs off the coast of my hometown. Applying for this job with WiseOceans felt like a natural progression for me. I have dived extensively on coral reefs in India and South-East Asia, but working with corals is new to me, and I am excited to be involved with coral gardening and reef restoration here in the Seychelles.
2. What steps did you take or are you currently taking to achieve your career goals?
Like I mentioned earlier, I have been involved with marine life and the sea since my early childhood, and the journey is still ongoing. As of now, I am trying to expand my knowledge of marine life, especially of my underwater sightings, not only to satisfy my own curiosity but also to be better equipped to answer any questions guests might have. I spend some of my free time reading articles and watching videos about other marine conservation projects and following other researchers to learn as much as I can.
3. How did you obtain your current position?
I am subscribed to WiseOceans Careers advertisements, so I saw the job advertised, and a close friend who had worked a long time with WiseOceans also told me about it because he knew I was interested. I applied and was fortunate enough to get the job!
4. Which part of your job do you enjoy the most?
I like being in the water on my own so I can take my time to examine every rock and fish and coral that takes my fancy. I love spotting new creatures (the stranger the better!) and photographing them to identify later. I had never previously felt inclined to take photos underwater, but since it has become part of my job, I find myself really enjoying the challenge of capturing the beauty and colours of the fish and other animals I see, especially since nothing is ever static underwater — neither the light, the subject, nor me!
Introducing someone to the underwater world for the first time and seeing the look of wonder on their face also gives me an irreplaceable sense of joy.
Another thing I really enjoy doing is writing poems and stories to share knowledge about the marine world in a fun way that makes it more accessible to children especially.
5. Are there aspects of your position which make you feel that you are really ‘making a difference’?
There two ways in which I believe I am making a difference. The first is changing myself for the better, and hopefully that will inspire others to follow suit. The other way is helping people become aware of the problems and solutions we face today so that they can choose to make a difference. In the context of marine conservation, helping others discover the beauty of the marine world is already a big step towards making them want to protect it.
6. What do you know now that you wish you knew when you were starting out?
Nothing. I am happy and grateful to continue learning and discovering myself and the world around and under me.
7. Are there any skills you never thought you would need but did?
Not that I can think of. I believe it is useful to pick up any skill, whether I need it or not.
8. What advice would you give to budding marine conservationists?
Remember that conservation is about preserving natural ecosystems, and not manipulating conditions according to what we believe is right. Remember that there’s a fine line between lending a hand and interfering with nature. Organisms are linked to each other and to their environment in more ways than we can fathom, and however tempting it may be to play God, it’s best to leave ecosystems to recover by themselves and focus instead on trying to reverse the negative impacts of human life on the environment. Raising awareness about how we are impacting the world with our daily actions and what we can do to make a difference is a good place to start.
9. What is your favourite marine creature and why?
It’s hard to pick a favourite when there are so many magnificent creatures underwater, each one unique in its own way. However, I do love macrofauna including nudibranchs, flatworms, coral crabs, shrimps and seahorses, to name a few. How such detailed beauty can exist in the tiniest of creatures will never cease to amaze me!
10. What is your most unforgettable moment in the sea?
Having started sea swimming and diving well over 20 years ago, I have had many unforgettable moments in the sea, both pleasant and unpleasant. My most unpleasant unforgettable incident was being caught in a rip current once when I was still a teenager. My friend and I were having a ball of a time one hot summer afternoon, splashing around in one of our favourite spots along the Pondicherry coastline where a river meets the sea. I don’t know when we suddenly realised that we were drifting deeper into the sea, and when we tried to swim back to shore we found ourselves really struggling. We hadn’t realised that the tide had changed, causing a strong rip current where the water from the river was flowing out into the sea. My friend was the stronger swimmer and made it back to shore before I did. I was panicking and thought I might die, but it helped to see my friend on the shore. I put all my strength and effort into swimming against the current and somehow made it to the beach, gasping for breath. We both then flopped down in the sand and sat there speechlessly for some time before heading home. Many months later, we happened to read about rip tides together in Marine Biology class, and that’s when we realised that we had been caught in one.
As for one of my favourite moments underwater, I will never forget the time I saw the cutest baby octopus towards the end of a dive off Havelock island in the Andamans. The brave little fellow was sitting between some small rocks, and desperately fending off a group of territorial damselfish by throwing boxing punches at them with his multiple arms. The sight was adorable and hilarious at the same time, and I’ll always remember it!
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