Iru Zareer, Outreach Educator/Field Support

Irthisham hails from the capital city of Male' and goes by her nickname 'Iru'. We're excited that Iru will be taking on a brand new role for the 2019 season, heading up MWSRP's community and industry outreach efforts.

Her pathway to the head of our field team started in her early years with an abundantly obvious passion for the ocean. She has fond recollections of waking up bright and early on weekends to go swimming in the sea with her father and sister and she has been inseparable from the ocean ever since.

Iru has spent seemingly every waking hour building her experience in the marine conservation field, above and below the waves. Starting with an apprenticeship with IUCN during her gap year, Iru then joined the MWSRP field team. After leaving us temporarily to pursue higher education ambitions, she has returned to the Maldives and explored the dive scene, with qualifications as a Reef Check Eco Diver and PADI Divemaster leading to her now being a Green Fins Country Assessor.

Iru is an environmental enthusiast and educator who, to a great extent, prefers the quiet island life of Maldives! Iru has the unique pattern of almost every individual whale shark on the MWSRP database memorised and is able to recognise many of the individuals we encounter on the spot (excuse the pun...)! Iru is happiest by the sea and never strays too far, when she's not in the water swimming with ocean giants or finding nudibranchs she can be found at the beach - usually with an ice cream in hand!

Clara Cánovas Pérez, Operations Manager and Volunteer Coordinator

As a former Lead In-Field Coordinator and contributor of much whale shark encounter data, Clara has earned her stripes (and spots...) as a true whale shark hero! She first joined us as a volunteer in 2016 and has been part of the team since 2017.

Clara comes from a small island in Spain, Mallorca. She grew up spending most of her time in the sea with her father, fishing and snorkelling. Seeing large fish and megafauna was her childhood dream and led her to an undergraduate in Environmental Sciences and then an MSc in Marine Ecology.

After visiting the Maldives twice, she fell in love with the country and decided that she wanted to come back to help protect the whale sharks and develop sustainable tourism. Clara has participated in cetacean research projects, fisheries management projects and has helped in a chimpanzee sanctuary and veterinary hospitals. Prior to joining the MWSRP, she was working in nature reserves as a guide, focusing on sustainable tourism and conservation.

She will always have one of her multiple cameras on her and when she spends more than a week without being able to see the ocean, she becomes “land” sick.

Clara is currently also working with another other organisation, Alnitak Research Institute which is based in the Mediterranean Sea.

Chloe Winn, Lead Infield Coordinator and Social Media Manager

A former volunteer, Chloe is also an accomplished artist, (a costume designer for TV and film no less!). However, her other (some may say 'main')  passion is all things marine. Since her placement with MWSRP in 2018 she has gone on to work as excursion guide in Dhigurah and is currently working her way towards starting an MSc in Marine Biology. We're excited to have someone with Chloe's diverse skills and huge passion involved in the conservation of whale sharks.

Ibrahim Shameel, Project Manager/Field Support

Shameel is originally from the Maldives capital Malè. Yet despite the city boy tag this automatically gives him, he is happiest in the water! He joined our team after coming out to volunteer in 2013, deciding on a change of course from an office job in Human Resources to marine research and conservation. Since then he has completed York College's International Foundation Programme in the UK. He's one of our most experienced members of staff and he has a number of hats, also working with our neighbouring NGO the Olive Ridley Project. Shameel runs MWSRP's  volunteer programme and is a core part of making our programme tick.

Shameel’s claim to fame is representing the Maldives in the 2008 Beijing Olympics in their national swimming team - we think he’s part fish he’s so comfortable in the water! He also has a very unfortunate taste in board shorts.

Mohamed Ziyan, Intern

Over the duration of his 6 month internship, Ziyan will be working with us on our South Ari expeditions and other projects. Read more about his path to conservation below.

"Hello! My name is Ziyan. I’m from HA.Utheemu, and I’m currently working as an intern with the Maldives Whale Shark Research Programme. I absolutely love exploring the ocean, and marine biology is a passion of mine! Currently I am learning about how to conduct scientific surveys, as well as learning about the biology and ecology of the whale sharks. During my time with MWSRP, in both South Ari and Fuvahmulah study sites, I have already met many like-minded conservationists and specialists from Maldives and from all over the world, which has been a huge inspiration"

Thank you to Secret Paradise for generously supporting this internship role and making this learning experience possible.

Richard Rees, Co-Founder, Managing Director

Rich comes from the West coast of Wales and this is probably where his love of the ocean and penchant for day dreaming originates. It took him two research expeditions to the mountains of Papua New Guinea and Kazakhstan to realise just how much he wanted to work by the sea.

Rich worked as a fisherman whilst planning a first expedition to the Maldives with Jim and later for a fisheries monitoring company in Victoria, Canada. Over the years Rich has memorised most of the whale shark spot patterns in the database, which is a good job because chances are he’s forgotten his laptop.

Board of Trustees

Morgan Riley

Morgan Riley is a senior British Civil Servant who oversees the spending of British Government development spending in places as diverse as Afghanistan, Rwanda and St. Helena, where he was involved in the creation of the new airport.

Morgan comes from a background of exploring. He was involved in expeditions seeking snow leopards in Kazakhstan, birds of paradise in Papua New Guinea and was part of a scouting trip to Cenderawasih Bay in West Papua well before the whale shark there came to public awareness. He once rode (and to a large part chased) a mule on a traverse of the Moroccan Sahara.

He was a member of the original 2006 Royal Geographical Society funded expedition which preceded the formation of the MWSRP. Morgan was involved in organising the 2007 expedition and was again involved the following year. He was principle author of the first peer reviewed publication outlining the basic demographics of the whale shark aggregation at South Ari atoll in 2010.

In his role as a MWSRP Trustee, Morgan focuses on the financial security and direction of the charity.

Rhodri Lloyd-Williams

Rhodri Lloyd-Williams is a self employed business owner, producer and exporter out of mid Wales.

Rhodri first became involved with MWSRP as a member of the second expedition to South Ari atoll in 2007 and was a key member in the establishment of the charity in the following years. A co-author on the 2010 paper on the whale shark aggregation in what is now SAMPA, he was one of the main architects of the volunteer programme.

As a businessman accustomed to wearing many different hats in his day to day operation, his role as a Trustee focuses on the operation and acting as a steady hand to analyse future projects and potential problems before they can occur.

Scientific Advisory Board

Cameron Perry, Chief Scientific Adviser

Cameron is originally from Poughkeepsie, New York and received his B.A in Biology with a minor in Environmental Science from Boston College in 20.  He has always loved the ocean and knew from early on that he wanted to be a marine biologist.  After graduating he decided to volunteer with the MWSRP to get a taste of what field research entails, coming out for a month in 2014 where he 'fell in love with whale sharks and the Maldives from the very first moment I entered the water', and the rest as they say is history. Cameron completed a joint M.Sc in Marine Biology and Coastal Zone Management at Nova Southeastern University in Florida.  He, of course wrote his thesis on whale sharks! Using the data that the MWSRP and our volunteers have collected over the the past ten years he went on to publish the first growth rates analysis for free swimming whale sharks. Cam is currently a PhD student at Georgia Tech.

Jessica-Lily Harvey

Jess is a Mechanisms of Behaviour PhD student at St Andrews University. A bit of a statistical wizard, Jess is currently helping us by applying statistical modelling techniques to our data set to investigate whale shark population dynamics and aiding welfare policy improvement. Her PhD focuses predominantly on a comparative neuroscience approach to investigate the effects of developmental stress on the formation and execution of daily and seasonal behaviour.

Jim Hancock, Co-founder

Discovered early on that as a fair skinned Welshman, the tropical sun was never going to be his friend! One of the founding members of the Programme, Jim began his Maldives association as a marine biologist straight out of university. He moved into the resort world, gaining department head operations experience.

As a self-confessed fish geek, Jim went back to his marine roots as the Cruise Director of a liveaboard, spending a few years traversing the paths less travelled in the Maldives before moving back to MWSRP as Operations Manager, a post he held for a decade.

Brent Stewart, PhD, JD

Professional Foci: Population Biology, Ecology and Physiology of Marine Vertebrates.

Dr. Stewart holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Biology from the University of California at Los Angeles, a Master of Science degree in Ecology from California State University at San Diego, a Ph.D. in Biology from the University of California at Los Angeles, and a Juris Doctorate from Boalt Hall School of Law, University of California at Berkeley. Dr. Stewart served as a Science and Diplomacy Fellow in the Bureau of Oceans at the U.S. State Department from 1999 to 2001 and was awarded the prestigious Lowell Thomas Medal by The Explorers Club for his career efforts to explore, understand, and conserve Earth's ocean wildlife, In 2012, he was recognized as one of forty of the world's leading conservation biologists. Read more about Dr. Stewart here.