Passionate about the underwater world: Dr Kamla Ruby Moothien Pillay

Dr Moothien Pillay

"We need to protect our oceans as if our lives depend on it - because they do." - Sylvia Earle

We would like to introduce Dr Kamla Ruby Moothien Pillay, the Director of Mauritius Oceanography Institute, a passionate explorer of the undersea world. With a Bachelor’s degree in Zoology from the University of Madras (India), Dr Moothien Pillay has started her marine research career in the early 1990s at the Ministry of Fisheries in Mauritius.

“After initial trainings in various departments including chemistry, biology, ecology, aquaculture, I had expressed my wish to work in the marine ecology department. However I had to convince my superiors to give me this opportunity because at that time, marine science was not perceived as a career for women, given it involved scuba diving and working for long hours at sea with a male dominated team,” said Dr Pillay.

After working on several projects, Dr Moothien Pillay developed an interest in coral reefs, and when she was given the opportunity to proceed for postgraduate studies in Australia, she decided to do so in marine biology. She hence joined James Cook University and graduated with a Postgraduate diploma in Science and a Master’s degree in Marine Ecology and Fisheries Biology. She then pursued her studies to a doctoral degree in Fisheries Science with specialisation in molecular genetics at Kitasato University in Japan.

Dr Moothien Pillay joined the Mauritius Oceanography Institute in 2001. Since then she has been leading several local, regional and international collaborative projects. This passionate marine scientist never got tired of the adventure and thrill of discovery. She was inspired by the many layers of interconnected scientific knowledge swirling around in the ocean - such as biology, taxonomy, ecology and genetics. She has also been involved in the organisation of workshops and talks, and the media to promote marine science, among not only students but to the public at large as she believes that sensitisation is the key to conservation.

She has had an exciting research career before her appointment as the Director of the Mauritius Oceanography Institute. Her research was focused on coral biology, coral reef ecology, and evolutionary and population genetics. She has published several peer-reviewed journal articles and conference proceedings/abstracts, has co-authored a book on Biostatistics, and is the main author of The Field Guide to Corals of Mauritius. She is among the five female marine scientists cited by Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission of UNESCO who have dedicated their lives to marine sciences and to the protection of the marine environment.

“There is a whole world living on the coral reefs, and it is highly elaborated and bustling like a busy city beneath the waves. The more you understand the undersea life and become enamoured by them, the more you will want to speak up for them and protect them. I love sharing the passion I have for marine science with local people, children and especially young women; I encourage them to get engaged in the field of marine sciences and work to protect our coral reefs. This gives me a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction,” Dr Moothien Pillay stated.