Curious about marine biology? In this exclusive interview, we chat with Sara Scroglieri, resident marine biologist at Kuramathi Maldives. Find out about her career journey, her passion for marine conservation and how her expertise will enrich your island experience.
What sparked your interest in marine biology?
Growing up in Milan, Italy, I was introduced to the world of diving by my father, a diving instructor from Tuscany. Our summer holidays at his family home near the sea instilled in me a love for the underwater world. During one particular trip, I encountered a marine biologist at a resort in Sicily. It was a transformative moment that triggered the realisation that I could combine my passion for diving with the study of the environment as a career. From that point on, I knew I wanted to become a marine biologist.
Can you share your path to becoming a marine biologist in the Maldives?
There are not many marine biology courses in Italy, and because the country is surrounded by Mediterranean waters, the studies are more focused on lab work and micro creatures. So, I first opted for a bachelor’s degree in general biology to give me a solid theoretical basis. After completing my degree, I had the opportunity to attend a workshop at a research centre in the Maldives. The workshop introduced me to inspiring people in the field and boosted my confidence. Motivated by this, I pursued a postgraduate course in Tropical Marine Biology at the University of Essex in the UK. Once I obtained my masters, I returned to the Maldives, securing my first job at a resort in the northern region. Currently, I have been working at Kuramathi Maldives for almost a year.
Can you describe your job role?
At Kuramathi Maldives, I’m mostly involved in outreach and education, sharing my passion and knowledge with guests. Additionally, I oversee projects such as identifying megafauna and monitoring sea temperatures. Our focus also extends to educating team members and local communities, recognising the need for environmental awareness in a country that’s 99% water. Ultimately, I uphold all sustainability initiatives on the island.
Talk us through an average day at work…
Each day at Kuramathi Maldives is diverse and exciting. Mornings are often spent snorkelling with guests, while afternoons are dedicated to practical work, such as coral reef research, organising special events and facilitating sessions with local schools. It’s certainly not all underwater thrills – there is a lot of admin! Then every day from 530pm to 730pm, you’ll find me in the Eco Centre. If you’re here on the island, drop by to say hello!
You mentioned the Eco Centre – what is this all about?
The Eco Centre at Kuramathi Maldives, managed by myself and my colleague Aleem, serves as an information hub for guests to learn more about the environment. One of our main attractions is a fascinating sperm whale skeleton that never fails to captivate visitors. We offer presentations on various topics like climate change and plastic pollution three times a week, as well as guided snorkelling safaris and hydroponic garden tours.
Do you find guests show interest in your work?
Absolutely! Around 80% of our guests leave with newfound knowledge and awareness. Many arrive with little understanding of coral reefs, responsible snorkelling or the fragility of our ecosystems. However, once they become aware, they often develop a deep fascination and interest in these topics. Our role is to nurture that interest and ensure guests return home with a more conscious mindset.
How do you make marine biology fun for kids?
We don't have to — it already is! The ocean itself is incredibly captivating. While some adults may view the ocean as intimidating, children see it as a world waiting to be explored. When we interact with kids, their eyes light up with wonder and they absorb our passion. Every Tuesday, we join forces with Bageecha Kids' Club to host activities and games, aiming to inspire the younger generation to protect marine habitats and the creatures within them.
What excursions do you recommend for customers?
Since a Maldives holiday is often a once-in-a-lifetime experience, I always encourage guests to seize unique opportunities. Our North Ari Excursion offers the chance to snorkel with mantas, while Aqua Venture combines visits to three of the best reefs around the Rasdhoo Atoll. Then there is our newest excursion: Whale Shark Discovery. We have a 75% success rate of encountering these magnificent creatures; it’s an experience you’ll never forget.
What measures are in place to protect whale sharks?
Whale sharks are protected species in the Maldives, and the area where they can be found is a Marine Protected Area. However, enforcement of regulations can be challenging. On any given day, there may be around 10-20 boats and 20-50 people gathered around a whale shark, which poses risks to both the animal and humans. Fortunately, Kuramathi Maldives is committed to following the rules. We train all our staff – excursion guides, boat crew and captain – as well as our guests, on the correct way to behave. And along with other responsible operators, we report any malpractice to the Environmental Protection Agency. The Maldivian government is in the process of employing rangers and conservation officers to monitor and protect the area.
How can tourists reduce their impact on the environment?
Firstly, traditional sunscreens are harmful to coral and marine life. Instead of using creams, consider wearing long leggings and a rash vest with long sleeves during snorkelling trips. This not only protects your skin but also keeps you warmer in the water.
Waste management in the Maldives is also an issue. We have limited recycling facilities and most of our waste is burned. I would recommend bringing solid toiletries, such as blocks of shampoo, conditioner and soap bars. If you do use plastic packaging, remember to take the bottles home when you leave.
There are things you can do from home to help preserve our oceans. One suggestion is not to eat meat or fish every day – go veggie one or two days a week. This reduces the amount of water used to make meat products and reduces CO2 emissions. It may seem insignificant, but small changes can make a big impact.
What was your best goosebumps moment?
I always get goosebumps when diving with manta rays. They move with such grace, like they’re flying in the water. On one of my first experiences, I was diving at a manta cleaning station, where mantas and other marine animals go to get cleaned by smaller fish. It’s like a day spa for megafauna. I was kneeling on the sand, mesmerised by this silent spectacle, being as still as possible. Opposite, the diving instructor was trying to get my attention, pointing behind me. I turned around but couldn’t see anything. Then suddenly, a shadow cast over me. When I looked up, I saw a 10-metre-long whale shark, engulfing everything in darkness. It was a surreal and awe-inspiring sight that made me feel deeply connected to nature and part of the marine ecosystem.
I hear your favourite marine animals are hammerhead sharks. Have you seen one in the Maldives yet?
Not yet! You can see them, but they are rare. The Rasdhoo Atoll, where Kuramathi Maldives is located, used to be a hotspot, which is why their diving centre logo is a Hammerhead. However, shark populations are declining globally, and hammerheads are particularly affected. We have had a few encounters since I’ve been here though. Every time a guest tells me they saw a hammerhead, I’m 50% jealous and 50% happy to hear that these incredible creatures are still present in our waters.
We hope Sara’s passion for marine conservation has inspired you. Discover more about Kuramathi Maldives or chat with us for first-hand advice on planning an unforgettable holiday to this oceanic wonderland.