Six-year-old Ruby Bennett’s dad possibly has one of the coolest jobs on the planet. In fact, as much fun as a regular day at Time Out towers can be, it’s a job we’d probably fight him for ourselves. So when we were invited to follow The Ambassador Lagoon’s manager, i.e. him, on a morning’s work with daughter Ruby, we couldn’t get there quick enough.
“We have more than 65,000 marine animals and over 250 species of fish here,” Rob Bennett reveals, as we make our way to Atlantis The Palm’s fish hospital, a vast, noisy chamber of pools, tanks and pipes that provides care and treatment to a whole range of baby marine life.
This facility, Bennett tells us, is one of the best-equipped in the world, nurturing shark eggs from fertilisation through to birth, treating injuries and working with other nearby facilities, sharing information and aiding conservation, especially for endangered species. “Most of the marine life here is native to the Arabian Gulf so we also release many of our exhibits into the ocean once they’re ready. We are literally having babies every day at the moment!”
“Can I see?” Ruby asks, stepping up onto her tip toes as we approach the young stingrays, eagle rays and cow nose rays swimming in one of the tanks. Dad lifts her onto a bench and hands her a suction pipe for her first go at “cleaning” the bottom of the tank. “This is brilliant!” she exclaims, laughing as the rays dive away in an attempt to avoid the nozzle. “This one has already been out into the exhibit,” Bennett explains, pointing to one of the larger rays, “but he got into a bit of a tangle with a shark so we’ve brought him back in here to treat the bite.”
Bennett has been with The Ambassador Lagoon since it opened nine years ago and has seen the facility evolve to become one of the most advanced aquariums in the industry. More than 100 people care for the marine animals at Atlantis, including water quality technicians, veterinarians and even chefs preparing the food. But it’s the aquarists who get to dive – every day – with the manta rays, black tip reef sharks, lionfish and friends, keeping a watchful eye on their habitat and development. We’re not jealous at all!
“If someone was to say, ‘Write your dream job’, this would be it,” Bennett admits as we head to the top of The Ambassador Lagoon with a bucket containing the inhabitants’ mid-morning snack. “I don’t get to dive as much as I’d like to now as there’s a lot of paperwork and management to be done, but it’s true that if the day gets too hectic and I need a little head space, I can pull on my wet suit, jump in and check on the fish.” See, we told you! Best. Job. Ever.
Ruby helps her dad with the feed, trying to count the number of sharks who instantly crowd the bottom of the platform as they sense what’s coming. Each day the fish here are fed 472 kilos of restaurant-quality seafood – including shrimp, squid, mackerel and anchovy – which is meticulously organised in the food preparation area. To put this into perspective, that’s one-and-a-half times the amount of seafood that Atlantis favourite Nobu serves in total, in one day.
After feeding time we move on to behind the scenes at The Lost Chambers Aquarium, where Ruby is fascinated to watch her favourite clownfish from above the water, rather than behind the glass down on the visitors’ side of the exhibit. Bobbing around in the adjacent tank are a shoal of seahorses, who, Bennett tells us, mate for life and spend their days side by side in their chosen pairings. The babies are known as fry, and Atlantis has a special programme where seahorses are bred in the aquarium nursery and released into the sea.
Before we know it, it’s time to wrap up the tour and for Bennett to get back to the job. In their matching Ambassador Lagoon staff T-shirts, dad and daughter say goodbye to us and slip behind the “authorised personnel only” door at the aquarium’s entrance, beside a growing line of excited families waiting for their turn to be mesmerised by the marine life inside. And we leave feeling like we’ve had a very special encounter with some of Dubai’s most exciting inhabitants.
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