A scientist from the Philippines, Angel Alcala has found his passion and love for marine life especially those in the tropical waters of his country. With more than thirty years of experience as a marine biologist, he has given major contributions to his country’s marine development and ecology concerns. Apart from being a well-respected marine biologist, Angel Alcala is also involved in other biological science fields such as herpetology, marine biogeography, and marine conservation biology.
Early Life and Personal Background
Angel Alcala was born on the first of March in 1929. He and his family were from Cauayan, Negros Occidental. His mother Crescenciana Chua and his father Porfirio Alcala were residing in Caliling, a coastal village in Negros Occidental. Because of his exposure to a coastal setup, it is no wonder where Angel Alacala’s awareness and love for marine life came from. While they lived in a humble and rural setup, their simple living had always been supported by the bounty of the sea.
Porfirio Alcala, Angel’s father, was a fish farmer. He had made his living and supported his family by being one of the fish farmers who took care of fish ponds that head steady supplies of milkfish for sale in the local and neighboring markets. The life-long love for marine creatures began when Angel Alcala was young. This was because as the eldest child, he had helped his father take care of the fish ponds where he worked.
When he wasn’t helping his father he along with his brothers would spend most of their time catching crabs, shellfish, and shrimps which would then be served as their meals at home. Fostering a love for the marine life surrounding him wasn’t hard. Having spent a lot of time near the coral reefs and shallow waters, it is evident how the beauty of the sea had captured the heart of Angel Alcala right from the beginning.
His early years in school had been indicative of his thirst for knowledge and desire to excel. He finished his high school years in Kabankalan Academy where he was one of the scholars. He had also been an active member of the academy’s debate team, and had taken part in their Boy Scout troop as well as other extra-curricular activities.
It was in 1948 when Angel Alcala took his pre-medicine course. He had his courses which made him earn his undergraduate degree in Silliman University, the oldest American building and institution in the Philippines, and the oldest university in Asia that was founded by the Americans. Because of his promising potential and evident intelligence, he was later on accepted to be a student of the University of the Philippines’s College of Medicine.
However, Alcala decided not to let the opportunity go due to the financial circumstances that his family faced. In 1951, he had finished the biological studies he started at the Silliman University and he graduated as the magna cum laude of his batch. Despite having given up the opportunity at the University of the Philippines, Angel Alcala was marked to make a change in history after his graduation from the Silliman University.
Careers and Achievements
Shortly after Angel Alcala graduated, he already had a career waiting for him. He was invited to become one of the teachers in Silliman University’s Biology Department, and he had accepted. It was 4 years later when the turning point in his career had arrived.
Walter C. Brown who happened to be one of the Fulbright professors of Stanford University arrived at Silliman University. He had then taken Alcala as one of his protégés and their partnership paved the way for numerous scientific researches concerning biology in the Philippines. They worked together on several publications and went on numerous field trips to come up with data for their researches and publications.
It was Walter Brown who had helped Angel Alcala to get started on his herpetology-related works. Together, they became the authors of “Observations on the Amphibians of the Mount Halcon and Mount Canlaon Areas,” a paper which was published in the 1955 edition of the Silliman Journal.
Another 4 years later, Alcala was on his way to Stanford University. Through the support of Walter Brown, Alcala was granted a well-deserved Fulbright/Smith-Mundt Fellowship which was what had helped him earn his master’s degree. In 1964, Alacala went back to Stanford to finish his doctorate and two years later, he became one of the associate professors of Silliman University. Around that time, he had already gained recognition for his works related to herpetology.
In 1988, he resigned from his post in Silliman University, but he had already been their vice president for research then. Three years later, he returned to the university but was then given the honor to be their president. In the interval, he had served as the Philippine Council for Aquatic and Marine Research and Development or PCARMD executive director.
Research and Legacy
His 30 years of experience in the field wasn’t just a long 3-decade period in his life. During his time, he had made major contributions to marine biology research efforts in the Philippines and had authored over 160 scientific papers as well as books on the subjects he was involved in. Angel Alcala was the first Filipino scientist to have come up with several comprehensive studies concerning the Philippine reptiles and amphibians. He had also made minor contributions for mammals and aves.
From the 400 already known species of reptiles and amphibians, 50 more were added due to the efforts and works of Angel Alcala. Because of his works concerning marine life and herpetology, even foreign researchers now have reliable bases for the establishment of conservation programs in the country.
In 1994, he was given the Field Museum Founders’ Council Award of Merit for contributions to environmental biology. He is also a recipient of the Magsaysay Award for Public Service. He is currently the director of the Silliman University-Angelo King Center for Research and Environmental Management, concurrently the director of the Commission on Higher Education Zonal Research Center, and Professor Emeritus of Biological Sciences of the university as well.