Cristina Garilao, a.k.a. Nina, is originally from Manila but has been living in Kiel for nearly 13 years now. Her work in Germany revolves around projects that help maintain the database and web interface of AquaMaps, a platform that hosts standardized distribution maps for over 33,500 species of fishes, marine mammals, marine invertebrates and other marine organisms.
Despite having been in Germany for over a decade now, Nina’s work started in the Philippines right after she obtained her bachelor’s degree in biology from the Ateneo de Manila University.
She dubs her landing in FishBase a ‘story in serendipity’.
“One day close to graduation, I answered a ringing phone at home. Small talk with my dad’s friend led to an introduction to Deng Palomares, which later led to a ‘tip’ to apply for an open position with FishBase. There, Rainer Froese pointed to three volumes of the ‘Guía FAO para la Identificación de Especies para los Fines de la Pesca Pacífico Centro-Oriental’ and asked to translate a paragraph into English. Little did I know that the interview would land me a FishBase family for the next 26 years,” Nina recalls.
Before moving countries and tasks, the biologist took her first professional steps as a data encoder in charge of exhausting information in books such as Smiths’ Sea Fishes – which covers over 2,200 species – and enter relevant data to the species, synonyms, stocks, FAO, country, and common names tables in FishBase.
“Least to say, many such books and years later, I still have their reference numbers in my head and identify tropical fish by scientific name while diving,” Nina says with a smile.
From those times in Manila, Nina particularly remembers the FAO workshop organized in 1995, which brought the FishBase team together with ichthyologists from around the world to work on the FAO Identification Guide for the Western Central Pacific.
“We would do late evening and early morning visits to wet markets to collect fish, watch fish experts do what fish experts do in the lab, finalize manuscripts together, and share a beer or two after a long day’s work,” she recalls.
When it comes to the most fulfilling part of her work in these past decades, Nina does not hesitate to respond that it is collaborating with a professional team of people to build up AquaMaps to where it is right now.
“While we are the first to admit that there is still much to improve on, AquaMaps is the largest atlas of the living ocean and is often used by different researchers to answer questions in various fields of research – biodiversity, policy, and even genetics – with some results published in very high-impact journals,” the researcher says. “Special shout-out to Kathy who has been my partner-in-crime the last 11 years for all things AquaMaps!”
Thinking about the future of FishBase, SeaLifeBase, and AquaMaps, Nina hopes that the suite of products offered by the three databases continues to improve and prove itself relevant, while at the same time attracting some permanent funding that secures their existence for the years to come. (PDF version)
See also: The People Behind FishBase and SeaLifeBase via Sea Around Us news.