From icy Witch's Pool at Black Rock on Dartmoor, to the heat of the Arabian Gulf is the barely believable leap made by Okehampton boy Warren Baverstock. Warren learned to swim on the high moors at the tender age of three. But his reputation as a marine conservationist has been forged under the burning desert sun in Dubai.
He is aquarium curator of Jumeirah's Burj Al Arab in Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates, responsible for the stunning aquariums which are a feature of the world's most luxurious hotel – and for developing the company's marine conservation policy. On his days off he has also made a reputation as an underwater photographer. Warren was instrumental in starting the region's only sea turtle rehabilitation project. They have rescued, rehabilitated and released more than 780 sea turtles. Warren learned to fish on the moors and always took a mask and snorkel with him when he went out to explore the streams. He was drawn to Plymouth where he played national league basketball for the Raiders for eight years. But he says: "I always wanted to work at the National Marine Aquarium. "A lot of people want to work in an aquarium so you have to be prepared to start at the bottom." He kept banging at the door until he was taken on as a guide. But his career took off after his bosses discovered that he was a qualified scuba diver.
"He was sent to Dubai when the NMA won the contract to set up and run the aquariums at the Burj Al Arab.
"The NMA taught me everything I know," he said. "It's the best in the UK, without a doubt." The NMA's contract ended in 2009, but Warren stayed on to work for the hotel chain. One of the things he had learned at the NMA was a love of turtles. "We had a turtle called Snorkel, and I've always had a fondness for turtles," he says. He is now running a rehab programme for turtles which turn up ill or injured. Many young turtles fall victim to the Gulf's winter cold. With hawksbill, green and loggerhead turtles all on the endangered or critically endangered list, what once would have been just part of Nature's selection process is now a challenge to be overcome. Warren and his team nurse the young turtles back to health and then enlist local schoolchildren to release them back into the open sea.
They have also been breeding zebra sharks and recently published a scientific paper on parthenogenic reproduction in the species – a previously unnoticed phenomenon. "One of the main draws in any aquarium is sharks, and managing them is quite a responsibility," Warren says. His work with sharks in Dubai has earned him a place in the manual used by aquariums around the world. But not even his beloved NMA could house the biggest of them all – the whale shark. The largest recorded individual reached 41ft and weighed more than 21.5 tonnes. Warren seizes any opportunity to swim with and photograph whale sharks around the world, and is angered by the trade in their fins. The gentle plankton-feeding giants are butchered and their fins are exported to China, Hongkong and Taiwan. "It's horrific," he says. "Sacrilege."
"Education and conservation are very important to me and I had these values instilled into me during my days at the NMA." In Dubai he is responsible for three main exhibits. There are two tanks as you come into the Burj Al Arab, one on either side of the lobby, each of around 250,000 litres. Connected to these lobby tanks is a private dining area.
There is also an oval 300,000 litre aquarium in Al Mahara restaurant. The dining tables completely surround the tank. The aquariums are in keeping with the luxury of the Burj Al Arab, where the price of a one-bedroom suite starts at £1,700 at night. Warren has been in Dubai since 2002, when the NMA offered him the chance to work there. "My wife and I sold everything, we downsized and the whole move was made in four months," he says. He began as an assistant curator under Dominic Boothroyd, who is now the general manager at National Lobster Hatchery in Padstow, Cornwall. "Dubai is great, but I would love to come back to Devon eventually. I have still got things to accomplish here, but it's my intention to return some time," he says.
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