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Taking care of Kuwait’s marine life

Xavi Balcells

You will not have a “typical” day as a marine biologist. As a biologist, you can either work in a marine environment or in a lab for research purposes. Xavi Balcells, a 32-year-old Spanish marine biologist, shared his daily routine with Kuwait Times.

Kuwait Times: Tell us more about yourself.
Xavi: I studied biology at l’Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona. I’m currently working as a senior aquarist at the aquarium of the Sheikh Abdullah Al-Salem Cultural Center. I have been working in public aquariums for more than five years, including the Fakieh Aquarium in Jeddah and L’Aquarium de Barcelona.

KT: What does a marine biologist do?
Xavi: Biology is the science that studies life, so marine biologists are people who study marine life. In my case, I work with them and sometimes we do some studies which will help us keep the animals safe in a good environment.

KT: What does a normal workday look like?
Xavi: My day includes preparing food, feeding the animals, cleaning the decor, analyzing water (pH, salinity, temperature, ammonia, nitrites), treating sick fish, training animals to eat from the diver and doing necropsies when an animal dies.

KT: How many people do you work with?
Xavi: We are a team of eight people divided into two areas – six people in biology and two in maintenance.

KT: What are the pros and cons of your work?
Xavi: If you like animals, it’s a great opportunity to work with them. You have the opportunity to see species that are hard to find even in the wild. I also like the fact that I can get a job in many countries around the world, which I think makes people more open when they get to know different cultures. Dislikes include the daily routine. Working with animals means you will always have to work on weekends, Eids, national holidays, etc. Also, if there is a problem in the middle of the night or during non-working hours, someone may have to go to the site.

KT: How often are you working with animals?
Xavi: Most of the time in different ways – diving, feeding, taking samples of their tanks, treating them, etc.

KT: How often are you in the lab?
Xavi: We analyze water samples every day. It takes about an hour. In case there is a dead animal, we use the lab to conduct necropsies to try to find out why it died.

KT: How many kinds of animals do you work with?
Xavi: We have around 3,500 animals. I work with fish (including stingrays and sharks) and marine invertebrates (starfish, sea urchins, sea cucumbers, jellyfish, sea snails and corals), all of them tropical seawater animals. We also have beetles, scorpions and spiders.

KT: What are some important things to know before becoming a marine biologist?
Xavi: You have to know that it is a job in demand and competition is tough, so it’s not easy to get a job. You may have to work on holidays and in some jobs, you have to have a scuba diving license. As a scientist, it’s important to be able to speak and understand English. Sometimes you may have to spend long periods of time in the sea, so you need to feel comfortable working alone or in a group. Finally, you should have to be good at statistics and computer programs in general.

KT: What advice can you give to someone in this career field?
Xavi: Since marine biology is a very big field, I would tell them not to try to do everything. Focus on one thing and become good at that.

KT: What kind of jobs are there for marine biologists?
Xavi: Marine biologists can do research about marine populations, how humans affect marine ecosystems, or the consequences of climate change. Others work in protecting species in danger of extinction. You can find marine biologists on fishing boats making sure they follow the laws. A marine biologist can also work in aquaculture companies, aquariums and zoos. There are lots of marine biologists who are filmmakers, underwater photographers or work in the diving industry.

KT: What do you find most rewarding?
Xavi: When some of our fish get sick and get well after treating them. I came to Kuwait when the museum was not open. When I arrived, there was no water in any of the tanks; there were still plumbers preparing the aquarium systems, painters taking care of the decor, etc. So participating in the setup and comparing how everything was one year back with now, and that visitors are enjoying the animals, is very rewarding.

KT: What are your future plans?
Xavi: I’ve been in Kuwait for almost a year now. My plan is to stay here for another year and then I would like to work in other aquariums around the world and keep moving forward as a professional.

By Faten Omar

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