A lifetime dedicated to protecting the marine environment

Dr Kamla Pillay, a Director at the Marine Oceanography Institute in Mauritius, is focused on forming collaborative partnerships at national, regional and international levels to help her country and her institution improve marine management policy and contribute to the blue economy.

The Institute is an important research facility in Mauritius and is strengthening its existing partnerships and fostering new collaborations with various national and international institutions. Mauritius, a small island in the Indian Ocean, is one of the world’s biodiversity hotspots. It is vulnerable to climate change, especially with the rise of global warming.

Tourism is an important contributor to the country’s gross domestic product (GDP), and its coral reefs generate an estimated US$2.2 million annually. National priorities for the ocean economy in Mauritius include seabed exploration for hydrocarbons and minerals, fishing, seafood and aquaculture, deep ocean water applications, marine services such as ship registry, marine finance, ICT, marine tourism, seaport-related activities, marine renewable energies and ocean knowledge. Dr Pillay has developed an in-depth understanding of coral reefs, the genetics of corals, as well as their biodiversity and biostatistics, through the knowledge gained while studying for her Masters in Tropical Marine Ecology and Fisheries Biology at James Cook University in Australia.

After completing her studies in 2000, Dr Pillay returned to Mauritius where she worked on a project on coral reef farming and compiling an inventory of coral reef fauna. Collaborating with her colleagues, she took the lead role in the project, responsible for studying coral reefs, coral culture and reef rehabilitation. She initiated research projects that collected crucial data to support policy development.

Her research on enhancing the visibility of coral reefs has been published and she has presented on the topic at international conferences. Dr Pillay has made an immense contribution to reef management in Mauritius and the Indian Ocean. Her efforts have helped the Government of Mauritius to enact and implement relevant policy. Furthermore, the study and management of coral reefs have benefited fishermen in Mauritius. Through safeguarding fish habitats, fish catches have increased, improving community livelihoods. Small reef areas have been rehabilitated, improving marine ecology.

Dr Pillay’s work has helped create an awareness of the need to protect the environment. It has been promoted to the public through target groups, local communities, students and fishermen, and has helped to expedite their involvement through visibility studies. Dr Pillay is also training other professionals in the inventory of coral reefs. Since the launch of the project, she has trained research assistants and associate research scientists in coral biology, ecology, taxonomy and molecular genetics, and has supervised university students researching coral reefs.

Furthermore, she has contributed to skills transfer and knowledge management by training staff of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and other institutions, has provided technical advice at inter-ministerial meetings, and has collaborated with researchers from Kenya Wildlife Conservation and Sweden’s Soderton University. Dr Pillay’s work in marine science has been highly recognised in Mauritius and is an inspiration to younger scientists. She sits on various advisory committees and is a member of several international professional bodies such as the International Society for Reef Studies, the Australian Coral Reef Society, the Fish Barcode of Life Initiative (Africa) and the Mauritius Academy of Science and Technology.

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