Island life is unique - but things become infinitely cooler if you're getting paid to do what you truly love. By featuring amazing people doing awesome work, The Edition hopes to inspire new generations into hospitality - the backbone of Maldives' economy.
Fresh-faced and full of enthusiasm, Mark McMillan just celebrated his one year anniversary working as a Marine Biologist at LUX* South Ari Resort.
For all his dynamic spirit, he assures us it is not his first time here in the Maldives, he's just managed to keep that zest alive.
Back in 2016 he was based at the beautiful Four Seasons Kuda Huraa and Four Seasons Landaa Giraavaru as part of their Marine Savers programme. He shuttled between the properties for a 10-week learning and training period where he seemingly fell in love with the mesmerizingly beautiful marine life of the Indian Ocean.
Describing moving out to the Maldives for a permanent position from Chester, United Kingdom as not too difficult, McMillan attributes his successful adjustment to having had the “Maldivian experience” at Four Seasons.
“The team here is great”, he said, mentioning the many staff gatherings and outings organized by the management, “but obviously it is a bit of a lifestyle change, and that takes some getting used to”.
However, McMillan added that the fondness for the job and the opportunity to make a difference, far outweighed any cultural hiccups.
“Ever since I was small, I’m sure everyone says this but, I’ve been passionate about the oceans, the environment”, chuckled McMillan.
“Originally I wanted to be to be a zookeeper, and work in the zoo looking after elephants and zebras! As I got older I became more interested in the oceans and started to learn more about how we are damaging them and why we need to protect them.”
“When I turned 17, I got a job in an aquarium and I was able to teach the general public about all the amazing animals we had there. Then when I went to University, I did three years of Marine Biology [undergraduate] and I did a Master’s Degree in the field as well.”
“I worked one more year in the aquarium before leaving to Fiji, where I did a shark conservation project, which was cool. I came back to UK and got a job working at a zoo.”
Childhood dream accomplished then? “Well I wasn’t a zookeeper, but yeah, it was close enough!”
So, Zoos and Aquariums then, what’s your stance?
“Well [eventually] I kind of wanted to get out of that industry, and work more in nature. Zoos and aquariums can be great and I support them but I wanted to do something different”.
“You got your good ones and you got your bad ones…”, he said, trailing off. It is a topic that divides many in his industry, and after an understandable moment of hesitation, McMillan launched into his answer.
Highlighting how it was his own inspiration to foray further into conservation, he elaborated on his statement of support saying, “Aquariums and zoos I believe, having worked in them, are amazing tools for promoting marine conservation.”
“They inspire many people”, he added, eyes lighting up at the memory, “People that don’t live near the ocean, who can come and learn about the animals and get educated.”
“Obviously you have your bad ones, places that hold whales and dolphins captive for instance, I would never work anywhere like that. There is a limit I think”.
“If the establishment participates in conservation and direct action, then it’s a worthwhile thing, I think. For instance, saving species, breeding programs, that kind of thing”.
“So when I arrived here, there was no marine biologist at present – she’d left a bit earlier and left some documents and data for me here".
“Right now, obviously a big part of what we do are educational excursions and such".
McMillan’s voice gains momentum as he dives into subjects he’s clearly quite taken with. “We’ve start a coral restoration project, very early stages as yet".
“In terms of staff CSR, a lot of it is coordinated by Afeef Hussain [Regional Director of Training, Development and Quality at LUX* Resorts and Hotels] but we do regular whale shark outings or trips to Dhigurah [neighboring island] where we do beach cleanings and similar activities. We had a workshop with Parley Maldives as well, and collect plastic with them".
He also mentioned LUX*’s recent Dive Festival, which was graced by the likes of PADI executives, volunteers at the Maldives Whale Shark Research Programme, and representatives from Olive Ridley Project, successfully raising positive discourse on diving practices and utilizing underwater tourism to encourage awareness on protecting the environment.
“Probably the whale shark excursion".
The answer is probably the fastest response from McMillan that we received, and he couldn’t resist the smile that followed.
Grinning, he replied, “Well, yeah, it’s one of the reasons".
“When I was applying for jobs, there were a couple of positions available that I was considering - but this was one was at the top of my list because of the area".
“There was definitely a high chance that I’d be working with whale sharks, after all!”
“One of the main things, well three, that guests ask about are bleaching, sea-level rise and plastic pollution. But for me, the biggest problem is the plastic. It is massive".
His happy-go-lucky demeanor dims a bit as he describes the plastic presence in the Greater Male’ region as “heartbreaking”, especially in the “streets and harbor areas”.
“The fact that it’s made its way into the human food chain now, especially, people should wake but…” he trails off, as we delve into the many dangerous repercussions that inadvertently ingesting harmful substances could have on seafood-indulgent Maldivians, and humans around the globe.
The question throws him off a little, but in a good way.
“That is an interesting, loaded question!”
“Um… something that travels the world, you know. A sea bird, perhaps, get to travel to all these different places and explore.”
“Be cool to fly as well!”
Self-described whale shark enthusiast, Mark McMillian has undoubtedly found himself in one of the most desirable jobs in the Maldives, and perhaps even in the world, as he explores one of the few locations on Earth visited all year round by the majestic gentle giants.
His positive attitude to all things ocean-related is quite contagious, and he leaves readers with this wonderful tidbit that he says he loves,
“They say we know more about the space and the surface of the moon than we know about the depths of the ocean. I find that incredible!”
McMillan concludes the interview with his favorite quote, ominous words by none other than Captain Paul Watson, who is difficult to describe in a pinch but suffice to say is the Canadian-American wildlife conservationist and environmental activist responsible for founding the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society (which itself deserves a google search by anyone curious!),
“If the oceans die, we die.”
The Maldives is lucky to have enthusiastic Marine Biologists like Mark McMillan, who harbor a genuine connection to our environment. Hopefully, in achieving his dreams, he will play his role in contributing to the protection of our oceans – we wish him luck!