x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

A Day in The Life: Saadiyat Island's resident marine biologist

The Life: Arabella Willing's day includes children's nature hunts, nature talks and advising the Park Hyatt hotel where she works on becoming more environmentally conscious.

Arabella Willing, left, the resident marine biologist at the Park Hyatt Abu Dhabi, organises a nature hunt for children. Antonie Robertson / The National
Arabella Willing, left, the resident marine biologist at the Park Hyatt Abu Dhabi, organises a nature hunt for children. Antonie Robertson / The National

Living in lots of warm places while growing up, Arabella Willing became an avid snorkeller and nature lover. She studied marine biology at St Andrews University in Scotland before going to the Maldives to volunteer as a teacher. From there she started working at a resort that was acquired by Park Hyatt. She relocated to the Park Hyatt Abu Dhabi on Saadiyat island in June, where she is the resident marine biologist. Her typical day's work includes children's nature hunts, nature talks and advising the hotel on becoming more environmentally conscious.


During the turtle nesting season I come in early and go for a walk along the beach and check the nests. One of my plans is to do an early morning stroll along the beach for guests to see dolphins and turtle tracks. On a normal day I probably come in about 8.30am, take a walk around and check with the lifeguards whether they have seen any dolphins that morning. I am joining a bit of research with the UAE dolphin project - every time we see dolphins here we log them and send it to [the project organisers]. They are tyring to get a better understanding of where the dolphin populations are in the UAE. For me, as well, I can advise the guests when they are more likely to see dolphins.


We have our morning briefing to discuss any VIPS, guest comments from the day before, how many people are in-house. I check emails and work on written projects. I do a lot of back of the house to make sure we are doing things like recycling. We are affiliating with a lot of environmental organisations. We are going to go with a company called Earthcheck, which is a sustainable tourism and travel certification body based … in Australia. We give them our data - on energy, water - and they assess our property and tell us what is the acceptable level of resource use is and what best practice level it. We are going to become corporate sponsors of Emirates Wildlife Society and Emirates Natural History Group. Our goal is to be known as environmentally the best hotel in Abu Dhabi.


I have lunch at the staff canteen. It's very nice. I wander in - it's very non cliquey.


I might do a guest activity, give a talk about dolphins or turtles, or maybe organise some kind of kids' activity such as going along the beach, finding shells and teaching the kids about which ones are which. I have just got a new microscope in the kids club, which is very exciting so I might have a nature detective session. Sometimes I do some pool games or snorkelling school.


I manage the kids club, so late afternoon I double check that all the kids are happy and that my team there is doing well – we have four attendants. There is a full schedule each day but there are lots of toys and games if they don't want to get involved. But there are crafts sessions and games and sometimes we have cooking classes.


Once a week or every two weeks, I have a meeting with the green team. There is a representative from each department and we talk about how we are doing in terms of our environmental performance. One of my projects is to try to reduce our plastics use so each department will suggest how they can reduce their plastic use and we have goals and targets.


I do a few final administrative chores. The hotel is really good at organising activities for the staff so sometimes we will all go together for a sports evening. I've been diving a few times in Abu Dhabi. There is not a huge diversity but there are a few things to see. I went kayaking the other day in the mangroves which was really fun. I am thinking about in the future getting the guests in a group and taking them myself and doing an eco tour so I can explain about mangroves. In the winter we get flamingoes in the mangroves and in the resort and you can see dolphins and blue crabs. I've just got my new flat so I am doing a lot of DIY and a big painting for the wall. I am really into artwork. I am also really into cooking and dinner parties.