Kathleen Kesner-Reyes has a background in anthropology, but she has dedicated most of her professional life to working on marine biodiversity information systems.
After spending three years doing fieldwork for the Bolinao Marine Laboratory of the University of the Philippines’ Marine Science Institute, in 1995, she joined the International Center for Living Aquatic Resources Management as a Research Assistant for ReefBase –the electronic encyclopedia on coral reefs modelled after FishBase.
“It was there that l learned more about species databases and how compiling species data in a standardized format was important because it allowed different data to be combined and connected, allowing the development of useful tools, as well as queries that can lead to new knowledge on marine life,” Kathleen said.
Following this initial experience, Kathy –as her friends call her –joined FishBase as a Senior Research Assistant in 2003, and two years later she was brought into the AquaMaps project, then known as Half-degree Cell Mapping Model or HCMAP.
From that moment on, acronyms became part of her life.
“In 2005, Dr. Rainer Froese made his annual visit to Los Baños bringing with him his usual list of ‘small’ projects,” Kathy recalls. “He explained the general idea then handed me three thin sheaves of paper that included technical descriptions with strange acronyms in the headings- HSPEC on one, HSPEN on another, and HCAF on the third. I couldn’t make heads or tails out of them at first but later began to see that not only were these tables connected but that they were harnessing different global databases. Even if my understanding of the project was very basic at that time, it got me interested as I realized this could be an undertaking with many applications.”
This is how Kathy’s journey with AquaMaps started.
As soon as she understood what the new endeavor was all about, she started encoding and preparing data related to, for example, depth or FAO areas, in FishBase so that those data could be used by the model.
In collaboration with Skit Barile, she then worked on the first mass-production of marine AquaMaps.
“Two years later, we also started working with Sven Kullander on the extension of the AquaMaps model for freshwater ecosystems and produced AquaMaps for the Americas. I’ve been working with AquaMaps for 16 years now!” Kathy said with a smile.
Working closely with Nina Garilao and Rainer, and also in collaboration with FishBase, SeaLifeBase, the FBC and other experts, the researcher pointed out that she is proud to see AquaMaps grow from covering 691 marine fishes to now showing 33,500 marine species, and from focusing on contemporary species ranges to modelling future species distributions under different climate scenarios.
She is also happy to have been able to expand Freshwater AquaMaps so that it includes the ranges of species in Africa, Europe, China, Brazil, and the Great Lakes.
“Just like FishBase and SeaLifeBase, AquaMaps is a global public good. It is nice to see that in recent years, there has been increasing uptake of AquaMaps for different uses, from graduate theses to the development of risk assessment tools and approaches in such areas as fisheries, ship fouling, and biological invasions,” Kathy said. “AquaMaps data for tens of thousands of marine species have made possible cutting-edge work such as studies on the potential impacts of climate change on marine biodiversity, as well as analyses for better spatial planning of marine protected areas.”
Having been part of the development of AquaMaps and seeing it grow together with FishBase and SeaLifeBase, Kathy wishes that these projects will continue for many years to come, and that they will always have the teams, the partnerships and the funding support to do so.
“These are very important global species databases and will continue to be relevant and useful in the future, maybe even more so,” she said.