Here at Girls that Scuba we believe in highlighting women in the scuba dive industry who don't usually get the recognition they deserve. We did a mini series on our Instagram account showing women - who didn't have a big following to constantly recognise them - doing amazing things within the ocean and we've been doing this since the day we launched this website in the form of "Scuba Stars". And we are delighted to feature another bad-ass scuba girl making a difference. Let us introduce to you Flossy Barraud:
How did you get into scuba diving and a passion for the ocean?
As a child, I was always fascinated by the bizarre natural world. I loved rock-pooling in Wales, UK, sorting through seaweeds to find tiny fish and anemones. Through my teenage years I spent hours snorkeling in Greece, diving to collect abalone shells scattered across the seafloor like treasure and becoming fascinated by octopus, ink-ejecting squid and what I now know to be needlefish.
I was lucky enough to learn to scuba dive when I was 13 in a cold, muddy lake in the UK, and for a few years I admit I was put of diving for good! I discovered another passion – working with children. I completed an undergraduate degree in Childhood and Disability Studies at Northumbria University, but during my second year realised I had overlooked my love for the underwater world. In 2015 I travelled to Honduras and rediscovered diving (the warmer way!), and truly fell in love with the ocean and all the weird and wonderful creatures it hides.
Whilst in Honduras I completed a Marine Conservation internship with the Whale Shark and Oceanic Research Centre, meeting inspirational marine biologists and advocates from all over the world and instilling in me a desire to protect the oceans in any way I could.
How did you turn your passion into a job?
I was lucky enough to get accepted onto an MSc in Marine Environmental Management at the University of York in September 2016. This course literally changed the course of my life. I learnt about marine ecosystems, oceanography, and research skills and conducted two extensive research projects. For the second of these, I was lucky to get accepted to complete a 2-month research placement with the Manta Trust in the Maldives. During the placement I split my time between manta ray research and developing a marine education program with local school students. The program had a heavy snorkeling focus, and I was shocked to discover that many of the female Maldivian teenagers we were teaching could not swim and had never seen the beautiful world under the waves. They literally had coral reefs, dolphins and turtles on their doorstep and had never witnessed them. In fact, many of them were scared of the sea.
The placement cemented the career path that had been just an inkling of an idea beforehand – combining my two passions and working in the education and outreach side of marine conservation. After graduating with a 1st Class MSc, I completed my PADI Dive Master in Komodo National Park, Indonesia.
Here I got to dive with manta rays almost every day, to fly on Komodo’s crazy currents, and to advance my dive skills – something essential for marine conservation careers. Following this, I interned as a marine biologist at another Maldivian resort for 6 months. Finally, in June 2018, I started the job of my dreams – Education and Outreach Officer for Manta Trust, based in the Baa Atoll Biosphere Reserve – one of the best places to see manta rays in the world.
Tell us more about Manta Trust
I now run the Manta Trust’s Marine Education Programs with local schools in Baa Atoll, and this year I’ve worked with 28 secondary school students on a 4 month program at Baa. Dharavandhoo School. The program includes modules on Maldives marine ecosystems, coral reefs, megafauna, waste pollution and ecosystem conservation. The highlight for many students is the fieldtrips, which are snorkelling-focused! One of the main aims of the course is to increase students - especially girls - confidence in the water. We also aim to improve marine awareness and conservation in the Maldives and to interest more young Maldivians in marine careers, including dive, conservation or biology. Ultimately, the course aspires to create a generation of ocean guardians in the Maldives, passionate about conserving their marine environments.
Whilst I spend half my weeks working with local students, the other half is spent in the water with the majestic reef manta rays of the Maldives. These can be seen at cleaning stations and in feeding aggregations of up to 250 individuals. We spend our days surveying manta sites and diving underneath any mantas we see to take identification photographs of their unique ventral spot pattern, which we use to research and conserve their populations. Four of my favourite mantas can even be adopted as part of our Adopt A Manta scheme.
What is it about Mantas you love so much?
Mantas and diving are my meditation. When I am having a stressful day and I dive under the waves, enveloped in a feeding chain of 50 of these gentle giants or quietly being watched by one deep down on a cleaning station, I am carefree and content. I am in another world, under a weird watery space-like spell. My aim whilst working with Manta Trust is to get the majority of local school students in the area swimming with the mantas. Many students in Baa live close to the largest aggregation site for manta rays in the World – Hanifaru Bay. Tourists travel hundreds of miles to snorkel here, yet most students have never been inside or seen these magnificent creatures themselves – it seems kind of unfair, right?
If you love manta rays too then you can join The Cyclone, a community of passionate people from around the world, taking action to conserve mantas with the Manta Trust
What would you say to GTS girls who want to do what you are doing?
I love my job, and encourage any women interested in marine conservation to follow their dreams, work hard and don’t be discouraged by those that say ‘there are no jobs out there.’ As long as you are passionate and up for the challenge, able to make lasting connections, and willing to work for your dream, you can make it happen. In fact the next time you dive with a manta ray, you can be one of our citizen scientists by submitting your manta ray photos to our 'ID the Manta' database.
How do you feel about the future of the ocean in the Maldives?
There is a lot still to do to improve marine education and conservation in the Maldives, and get every young female in the area confident at swimming and snorkeling, but I am passionate and ready for the challenge. As Baba Dioum famously said: “In the end we will conserve only what we love; we will love only what we understand; and we will understand only what we are taught.”
At the moment I am helping to organise the first Baa Atoll Manta Festival along with the Biosphere Reserve Maldives Baa Atoll and Four Seasons Resort Maldives. The 24th November is going to be a day to celebrate manta rays and marine life of Baa Atoll and beyond within the Baa Atoll UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. I can’t wait!