Few places on Earth are more sensitive to and investing proportionately more into preserving the oceans than the country that is comprised of 99.87% ocean. The resort contribute their bit with a number of eco-sustainability projects and the luxury properties now almost all have on staff marine biologists who support their preservation initiatives as well as provide advice to the management and education to the guests.
I have met and correspond with many of the Marine Biologists in the Maldives, but I only recently encountered Caterina Fattori by stumbling across her Instagram feed. Based at Outrigger Konotta, she has captured a striking collection of close up coral shots with that “patterned tapestry” feel that I posted on a few times (see Bubble Anemone picture at bottom). I’m going to feature a special online exhibition of her finest piece in tomorrow’s post, but today, in honor of tomorrow’s World Oceans Day, I thought I’d introduce this expert on the front lines of sustaining the sumptuous ocean all us Maldives aficionados adore…
- Where did you grow up?
I come from Italy and I grow up in a small village in the North East, 50 km from Verona. During my academic studies, I moved a bit around Italy. In fact, I had the wonderful opportunity to live for a while in Padua, Ancona and Venice. Actually many people asked me, how a girl from the “countryside” loves the sea so much? Since I was kid with my parents I spent my summer holidays in some towns at the seaside, but I was scared of the water. After some swimming courses and a better confidence with the water, my parents bought mask and snorkel and was the best thing ever. Having the possibility to spend time admiring the underwater world was (and is still) something indescribable!
- Where did you study marine biology?
My bachelor degree in Biology curriculum Marine I completed in Padua and Chioggia (Venice). Then, I moved in Ancona, central area of Italy, for my Masters, where I stayed for 1 year and half, before to move again for my final research, to Venice.
- What you do your final research project on?
My final research project was about Microbes associated with tropical stony corals, focusing on biodiversity and potential pathogens. For me was the second time to analyze an aspect regarding coral reefs, although until that time I hadn’t visited any of those ecosystems. In fact, for my Bachelor degree I analyzed the coral bleaching, only on “literature level”. For the Master Degree, I analyzed some coral frags from Sulawesi, Indonesia and the potential role of virus and bacteria associated to white syndrome. For me, was really challenging because was a new field for the marine microbiology and to be honest was not so easy find out the potential pathogens. The best part of this was the possibility to spend time at the microscope. The microbiology is my obsession, because you have to focus to what you cannot see at naked eye.
- How did you find yourself in the Maldives
- I’ve been here in Konotta since September 2015, first experience as Marine Biologist. At the beginning, when one of my friend that was working in Ari Atoll told me about the opportunity to come and work in Maldives, I couldn’t believe it! Because many times I tried to reach this paradise, but without any success. After sending my CV to Best Dives Maldives, I received an email asking me to have an interview. I was so excited and in the same time scared about their proposal: leading a coral restoration project. In less than one month, I packed my bag to reach the South of Maldives, where I’m still working. In Konotta, working in a diving center and look after the coral project is the best option I could have, join to of my passion: Corals and diving, and sometimes have also the opportunity to guide some excursions. Sometimes live and work in a small reality is hard, but I can always find something to do not get bored. Many friends said to me that I cannot complain about my condition and it’s true, I live in the middle of the Indian Ocean, in a small tropical island, where I can work without considering this a job, because I really love what I’m doing despite any difficulties!
- What camera and light rig did you use to take these pictures?
I describe myself a beginner (neophyte) for the underwater photography, because for me is like a game, I’m not using any sophisticated gear and I have been using an underwater camera for only one year. I used to use a Canon D30, I floated a month ago and I’m now looking to buy something else. For me that camera was enough, is really simple and easy to use, without any flash or light system. It is pure fun, grab my camera and just snap some pics here and there, especially when I’m going diving for coral monitoring in the House reef, here in Konotta or during some boat dives.
- Where were they taken (which dive sites, if you remember)?
Almost all of these pictures I took in Konotta House Reef, while two from the selection were taken in Bali (Nusa Penida and Ahmed).
- What inspired you to take such close up shots?
I think is something link to my personality, actually I’m little bit stubborn, a “perfection fanatic” and details obsess. So normally, when I’m going diving or snorkeling with my camera, I’m trying to concentrate in the things that are different or that catch more my attention also on ordinary subjects. I mean every time I’m in the water, for me is something magic, although can be 1000 times I’m doing the same snorkeling path, I will always find something different or new. The nature is so amazing and especially while snorkeling, you have the time to appreciate more the details, the colors, behaviors, etc, features that can be captured also in a shoot. My favorite subjects for the close up are the corals, is such astonish the way they deposit the skeleton, the patterns that can create Lobophyllia, Symphillia, Platygyra, Leptoseries etc., is simply WOW! Probably all this started, for the coral restoration project I’m looking after here in Konotta. Every month, I have to take pics and measurements of the coral frags on the different frames. Another fact that probably made me more focusing/obsessing on the close up was the bleaching event. During those months I was continuously looking for recovery’ signs or during the day time I was looking at the stressed polyps while feeding. Taking close up, I’m not doing only for me, but with my diving center where we are offering to our guests underwater photo shooting. In these dives, normally you need to pay particular attention to the guests, because they want to have as many memories of their underwater experience, but for me it is sometimes a kind of treasure hunt. I’ll leave the group for a while just to find something different or particulars that guests cannot see while too concentrate in other things.
- What were some of the difficult parts of taking such shots?
For the static/sessile organisms is not so hard job, just concentration, adjust white balance, buoyancy and be sure that the light is good for the shoot. For the pics of animal that are moving, there yes, you have to be really patient (I’m not so patient and sometimes I give up). For example with the clownfish, that normally are shy, you have to give them the time to recognize you and approach you. Sometimes is not possible to spend so much time on one subject.. In many cases, it happened that once in my room I recognized or discovered some details, color, features that during the shooting I hadn’t noticed. In every shoot I try to find out something good, maybe is not perfect but the nature is too amazing that sometimes also in the imperfections you can find out something awesome!
- What has been your favourite sighting underwater in the Maldives?
Despite the most common sightings of Maldives, I haven’t yet seen any whale sharks and manta rays in one year and half I’m working in Gaafu atoll. Anyway, I’m not upset about this, although I would love to see them. For me, underwater is all gorgeous. I don’t have only one. I still remember the emotion when I discover some sexy shrimps (Thor amboinensis) in the House reef, or the thrill when I jumped with my colleagues in a dive site close by Konotta and we spend our dive time with 14 grey reef sharks. Probably the most unique and touching moment is always when I can spot my favorite fish, the harlequin filefish, once I could spotted a baby one and it’s was absolutely cute! (they are also the most challenging subject for me to take a picture).