You see stingrays glide overhead. Hammerhead sharks swim innocently in sync with barracuda. Bottlenose dolphins break waves next to kayakers … and you haven’t even put on your bathing suit yet. Welcome to Atlantis, Paradise Island, Bahamas. This legendary, one-of-a-kind water land and resort not only redefines what it means to vacation but reinvests to make your vacation, and the vacations of others, last a lifetime.
From the famous Leap of Faith (a waterslide that takes you through a shark-filled lagoon) to the endless underwater animal adventures – swimming with dolphins, snorkeling with stingrays, walking with sharks, oh my! – Atlantis is often referred to as a fantasy land where magic comes to life below the water’s surface. But don’t be deceived. Behind the breathtaking species and out-of-this-world attractions are dedicated teams who live and breathe to save the ocean and its inhabitants.
Meet Michelle Liu, Senior Vice President of Marine and Water Park Operations. Michelle, along with four teams she oversees with over 1,000 staff members, are responsible for the world’s largest open-air aquarium comprising 20 million gallons of marine and freshwater systems, over 50,000 animals and 200 species.
“Some days I can hardly breathe,” Michelle says, laughing. “But luckily I have an extremely competent team that I’m proud of in all areas.”
As a 24-year veteran at the world-famous resort in The Bahamas, she has carried numerous titles and roles along the way to get her to where she is today – from swimming and diving to acquiring animals for the on-site exhibits – but her passion has always remained the same.
“The ocean was my first love,” says Michelle, recalling childhood summers spent at sea and her eventual start in the industry as a scuba diver for a small aquarium, long before the thought of running a department of such magnitude even felt like a possibility.
“Today, I focus on the overall strategy of the division – from leadership to employee engagement to community initiatives – and concentrate on bringing the teams together to ensure we’re all working toward the same goal.”
If the only goal you’re thinking of is making money for Atlantis, think again. While financial stability is no doubt a priority and necessity, behind the glitz and glam of Atlantis’ thrill rides, awe-inspiring attractions and beautiful creatures is a mission: to protect the ocean.
“In order for us to save our environment, we need to educate those who live in it,” shares Michelle. “After all, you can’t help protect the coral reefs if you don’t know what’s destroying them.”
This is done through numerous on-site interactive educational programs Michelle oversees – including Marine Camps, Snorkel the Ruins, the Stingray Experience and engaging with rescued dolphins and sea lions – that help fund the Atlantis Blue Project Foundation. ABPF is a nonprofit organization dedicated to saving sea species and their extraordinary habitats throughout The Bahamas and surrounding Caribbean seas. By funding scientific research, conservation programs and community outreach efforts, its mission is to protect the waters and its vast marine wildlife, ensuring that The Bahamas will remain a haven for a myriad of one-of-a-kind, rare and endangered species for generations to come.
“The idea is, once guests have an unforgettable experience – whether watching the release of hundreds of our sea turtle hatchlings or swimming with an animal on the endangered species list – they’ll make this emotional connection and be more willing to support and protect these animals and the place they call home in the future.”
Through guest participation in Atlantis’ marine adventures, over $5 million have been generated to support marine conservation efforts. These efforts include:
• Developing and implementing marine habitat protection and restoration strategies
• Conducting ongoing coral reef research and monitoring
• Training individuals in marine ecosystem research and management, as well as animal husbandry
• Rescuing, rehabilitating and releasing marine wildlife including sea turtles, manatees and dolphins
• Creating programs to heighten public awareness of the ocean and its inhabitants
• Delivering marine education programs to communities and schools
“I’m proud to be a part of an organization that is not just the pride of The Bahamas, but cares so much for the community, our environment, and wants to make it a better place,” says Michelle.
Ready to make memories while making a difference? Book your trip to Atlantis, Paradise Island, Bahamas through Vacations by Marriott, and get exclusive rates on your accommodations and airfare.