Palm trees, beaches, contemporary furnishings – typical descriptions of a tropical resort. The real distinguishing factor is the people working at the resort. YTL Hotels’ latest gem, Gaya Island Resort in Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, Malaysia, opens its doors to guests in July 2012. General Manager Mr. Jeffrey Mong graciously invited us to speak to several outstanding people working in this slice of Heaven before its opening. Here’s the second of this series of three interviews.
Hmmm….record-spinning DJ or marine biologist? Record-spinning DJ in a club full of youthful energy and hot girls or marine biologist in a skin-tight suit that even Andrew Garfield couldn’t pull off as Spiderman, lugging around cylinders that weigh up to 15 kilogrammes each, swimming amongst predator sharks… Ooooh, what a tough decision. Not for American-native Scott Mayback though.
LPP : Where are you from? Where did you grow up? Has this influenced your choice of career?
Scott : I was born in Long Island, New York. Growing up, I loved watching (immensely famous late French oceanographer) Jacques Cousteau’s documentaries on TV. And when we were little, my family would go vacation by the beach a lot. I’ve always loved the sea and all things natural. While other kids played in the sand or in the water, I was marvelling at horse-shoe crabs, fiddler crabs… at the wildlife I saw there.
LPP : When & how did you start working as a naturalist?
Scott : I’ve worked in a lot of places before: construction, landscaping, club scenes, telecommunication company, you name it! Then I worked in an aquarium shop. I became fascinated with the seawater tanks. It reignited my love for the sea. I began reading up about corals online.
Later, I decided to go to college but I had to choose a major: marine biology or music production. Half of me wanted to be a DJ & the other half wanted to be outdoors, with nature again. Everyone was telling me, “The market is flooded with marine biology graduates now. It’s going to be hard to find a job”. But I realised I really wanted to be back in nature. I’ve been living life in the city the past few years, had become out of touch with nature. I realised that was where I really wanted to be – working outdoors. I missed it.
LPP : How did you end up in this part of the world?
Scott : After I graduated, I saw a posting online, looking for a marine biologist to work in Kota Kinabalu, Sabah. I had never heard of Borneo, not heard of Malaysia, didn’t even know where it was. But I applied anyway and I got it. That’s how I came to work in Green Connection, an aquarium and science discovery centre, 3 & a half years ago.
LPP : When guests start coming in, what’s a typical day at work going to be like?
Scott : Three main focus: reef conservation, coral rehab and sustainable seafood. I’m creating a small protected area out there in the sea, in front of our resort where I can bring guests out snorkelling. I’ll educate them about the fragile reef we have here. Right now, I’m planting more corals to balance out the ecosystem and I’m getting rid of crown-of-thorns starfish and other coral predators. I’d like to train more people to do this. I’m also talking to possible partners for our conservation efforts.
LPP : What’s the best part of your job?
Scott : (he was looking out at sea for so long, I thought he wasn’t going to answer me and finally) …I can go for a swim anytime I want. (smile)
LPP : What’s the worst part of your job?
Scott : Seeing animals die before you. My first job was at a school lab where I took care of several animals. The first time a cuttlefish I was looking after died, I was devastated because I had done everything I could to save it but it didn’t make it. It still affects me when the animals I take care of die.
LPP : Have you any advice for aspiring young conservationists out there?
Scott : There is a lot of hard work involved in this line of work. It’s not only about playing with sea turtles. It’s an uphill battle but it CAN be done. Expand your network.
LPP : Thanks so much, Scott. We wish you all the luck with your projects. Future generations should thank you and other marine biologists who work so hard to preserve our depleting natural resources.