Our new Working Wonders of the UAE series takes you to some of the country's most recognisable destinations to uncover the daily duties of the talented employees working there
When most of us see a jellyfish it’s an unwelcome surprise, but for Marguerite Alden, every new creature is a stinging success.
The aquarium manager at Atlantis The Royal is responsible for filling the world’s largest jellyfish aquarium with more than 4,000 glow-in-the-dark moon jellies as head of the resort’s intensive breeding programme.
Currently, hundreds of moon jellyfish are born in a back-of-house facility every week, with swarms more filling three huge tanks in the hotel lobby.
In the coming months, the piece de resistance will be unveiled – a 6.5m-tall aquarium in one of the hotel's signature restaurants, Resonance by Heston Blumenthal – and all hands are on deck to prepare the spectacle.
Midwifery aside, Alden, from Australia, spends her days matchmaking with sea life, breaking up fights between rival males and showing off the animals to high-profile guests including Beyonce, Kendall Jenner and Rebel Wilson.
She invited The National along for a day to get to know the 2,000 marine creatures that call Atlantis The Royal home, and showed us why it’s her dream workplace.
What does your job involve?
I've been the aquarium team manager here at Atlantis The Royal for almost a year now. We look after three very large tanks in the lobby and another huge jellyfish tank in one of our bars, as well as private quarantine tanks, holding tanks and a breeding facility for our jellyfish.
Atlantis The Royal has 26 species of fish and 1,403 individual animals, not including our moon jellyfish, of which we have about 600 on-site in our holding tanks with more being bred each month.
For successful breeding, we collect the larvae from the adult jellyfish and keep them in these small bowls where they change into a polyp.
From the polyp stage, we can trick them into thinking it is winter, meaning baby jellyfish are born all year round. After that, we feed them and grow them up into the big adult jellyfish that you're used to seeing.
What are some of the most exciting aspects?
I studied marine biology in Australia and when I was a student, I started volunteering at one of the public aquariums in Sydney and I was just hooked. I love jellyfish and working so closely with them is amazing.
When you see the animals successfully breeding and reproducing that means we’re doing everything right. It can be challenging to display these animals in aquariums and make their environment comfortable enough so that they're happy enough to breed.
When you start to see the animals displaying mating behaviours or actually having babies, that's the most exciting part. It makes me feel really happy and fulfilled
What are the most challenging parts?
We have a range of tropical fish in the other tanks, including some beautiful local two-bar seabream and yellow-bar angelfish and a big part of what we do is making them feel comfortable.
A lot of the time that means giving them a place to hide if they want to and giving them the choice of where they want to be.
It’s also important to consider the type of fish we keep together. You don't want to keep a lot of aggressive fish in the same tank because they'll stress each other out, so choosing tankmates that are going to be peaceful is very important.
Even putting too many males in with not the right number of females can be an issue. We have some tanks where the males can be a bit territorial, so we took some out and decided not to put any more in there.
You also need to get the number right. It’s important to put enough fish in there so they feel comfortable but not too many that it's overcrowded. A lot of things have to come together to make them happy.
What was your most memorable day in your role?
I think for me, the grand reveal in January was really an amazing time because we worked so hard to bring the tanks up to scratch. We had a very short time frame to bring everything together and we worked so hard.
On the day of the opening, there was this huge sense of relief that we'd finally got there and we’d produced some beautiful-looking tanks. That was a really special moment for me.
Witnessing all those celebrities and people from all around the world coming and seeing the aquariums I'd been working on was mind blowing really.
Having Beyonce perform and being here in the resort was such a huge event. It felt really amazing to be involved in such a massive thing.
I think she is such a superstar and knowing she was here and that she and her family saw our tanks was exciting and quite surreal.