A scientist from the Philippines, Angel Alcala found a 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 contributed to his country’s marine development and ecology concerns. 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. His mother was Crescenciana Chua, and his father was Porfirio Alcala. The family lived in Caliling, a coastal village in Cauayan in the province of Negros Occidental in the Philippines. Cauayan is known for its sandy beaches and pristine waters. This is where Angel Alcala’s awareness and love for marine life began. His family lived in a humble and rural area, being supported by the bounty of the sea.
Porfirio Alcala, Angel’s father, was a fish farmer. He took care of fish ponds that provided steady supplies of milkfish to the local and neighboring markets. As the eldest child, Angel helped his father take care of the fish ponds.
When he wasn’t helping his father Angel would spend most of his time with his brothers 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 captured the heart of Angel.
His early years in school it was clear that Angel had a thirst for knowledge and a desire to excel. Angel attended Kabankalan Academy with a scholarship; he was an active member of the academy’s debate team and was a member of their Boy Scout troop.
In 1948 Alcala began an undergraduate degree in biological studies at the private Silliman University, in Dumaguete in the adjoining Negros Oriental province. Because of his promising potential and evident intelligence, he was accepted to be a student of the University of the Philippines’s College of Medicine in Manila.
However, due to the financial circumstances Alcala did not accept the offer. In 1951, Alcala graduated magna cum laude in biological studies at Silliman University.
Careers and Achievements
Shortly after graduating, Alcala became a teacher in Silliman University’s Biology Department. Four years later a turning point in his career arrived.
Walter C. Brown, a Fulbright professor at Stanford University, arrived at Silliman University. Brown took the young Acala under his wing and they worked together on several biology publications. They also went on numerous field trips, collecting data for their research and publications.
Walter Brown helped Angel Alcala to begin his herpetology-related works. Herpetology is concerned with the study of amphibians and reptiles. 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.
Four 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 and he earned his master’s degree in biology in 1959. In 1964, Alcala returned to Stanford for doctoral studies and two years later, he became an associate professor of Silliman University. Around that time, he gained recognition for his herpetology work.
In 1988, having reached the position of vice president for research, Alcala resigned from his post at Silliman University. Three years later, he returned to the university as their president.
In the intervening years, he had served as the Philippine Council for Aquatic and Marine Research and Development or PCARMD as an executive director.
Research and Legacy
During his 30 years of experience as a biologist, Alcala made major contributions to marine biology research efforts in the Philippines and authored over 160 scientific papers as well as books. Alcala was the first Filipino scientist to engage in comprehensive studies concerning Philippine reptiles and amphibians. He also made contributions for mammals and birds.
From the 400 already known species of reptiles and amphibians, 50 more species were identified due to his efforts. Because of his work, conservation programs in the Philippines are now well established.
In 1977 Acala set up the first artificial reef in the Philippines in Dumaguette in 1977 when he worked for the Philippine government as Secretary of Environment and National Resources.
In 1994, he was given the Field Museum Founders’ Council Award of Merit for contributions to environmental biology. He is a recipient of the Magsaysay Award for Public Service. In 2014, he was named a National Scientist of the Philippines. Alcala is currently Trustee of Silliman University and is also Professor Emeritus of Biological Sciences.
Alcala married Naomi Lusoc in 1952. They have six children.