Join us in our 65th Anniversary
  • In 1974, as head of the newly-established Silliman University Marine Laboratory in Dumaguete City, Dr. ANGEL ALCALA began an experiment on a marine reserve concept in the island of Sumilon, off the northern tip of the island of Cebu, in an effort to save whatever was left of the country’s coral reefs.
  • ALCALA proved in Sumilon that the degradation of coral reefs was not irreversible. He also discovered that to sustain its success, the community members should be involved in the undertaking. In Apo island, off Dumaguete City, in Negros Oriental, ALCALA reaffirmed his findings in Sumilon, thereby enabling him to develop a model for succeeding marine sanctuaries not only in the Philippines but throughout the world.
  • ALCALA’s advocacy was crowned with success in 1988, when the government of President Corazon Aquino declared the Tubbataha Reef complex in the Sulu Sea as the country’s first national marine park.
  • When he became Secretary of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, ALCALA ensured the identification, protection, and management of all marine sanctuaries in the country.
  • The RMAF board of trustees recognizes his pioneering scientific leadership in rehabilitating the coral reefs of the Philippines and in sustaining for Filipinos the natural abundance of their country’s marine life.

The warm shallow seas of island Southeast Asia host one of the planet’s most productive natural systems. Coral reefs are nurseries for sea life of an astonishing variety and abundance, providing livelihood for fisherfolk and food for millions. But humans have preyed too hard upon the reefs.

Today, in the Philippines, 70 percent have been damaged or destroyed by predatory exploitation and pollution, and none has escaped harm. We now know that we must save what can be saved; this requires prudent restraint. But how can we rehabilitate what has been badly damaged, and bring back to vitality what has very nearly been lost? This task requires the practical application of science and has been the life’s work of marine ecologist ANGEL C. ALCALA.

A child of the sea-bathed Visayan Islands, ALCALA marveled at the wonders of coral reefs long before he understood them. At Silliman University he took up biology and pursued it through a doctorate at Stanford University. Returning to the Philippines, he made his career at Silliman, advancing in 1991 to become the school’s president.

As a young scientist ALCALA taught zoology, anatomy and botany to Silliman’s students and explored the local rainforests for undiscovered varieties of reptiles and amphibians. In 1974 he established the Silliman University Marine Laboratory. Based here, and working in collaboration with his research colleagues and students, ALCALA embarked on pathbreaking research.

On the island of Sumilon, ALCALA established his country’s first marine sanctuary. Here he observed that a healthy coral reef can yield sea life six times greater than previously thought possible. Moreover, ALCALA’s research revealed that if just one fourth of a reef is protected, the rest can be used as a fishing zone, providing a sustainable livelihood for nearby coast dwellers. When Sumilon’s reef was badly plundered after losing its protected status, ALCALA learned another lesson: Involve local people! On Apo Island, Silliman’s team worked hand-in-hand with local fishing families from the beginning; today the university has withdrawn and the people manage the restored reef themselves. These hopeful findings are now being put into practice throughout the Philippines. “This is my vision,” says ALCALA, “a series of marine reserves in all the islands, all contributing to keeping the surrounding seas healthy.”

Keeping the seas healthy and bountiful for growing numbers of Filipinos has been the object of much of ALCALA’s research. He built the Philippines’ first artificial reef, now a model for dozens of others. He induced the near-extinct giant clam and Philippine crocodile to reproduce in captivity and developed breeding programs for other valuable sea animals. He monitored the health of fish, corals, seagrasses and mangroves throughout the central Visayas and taught coastal communities how to increase the productivity of precious shallow waters. He studied the effects of pollution on marine organisms. As he learned, he also spoke out.

ALCALA is a conservationist who gets the facts first. Based on thorough research, he defended Negros Island’s surviving patch of virgin rainforest from hydro-electric dams and tourism and helped to evict commercial seaweed producers from the unique Tubbataha reef–now the Philippines’ first national marine park. ALCALA’s forceful and reasoned public stand for the environment is unwelcome in some quarters. But this down-to-earth scientist who prefers the sea’s breezes to air conditioning carries on fearlessly nevertheless, mindful of the Bible’s teaching that, “We are the stewards of Creation.”

ln electing ANGEL C. ALCALA to receive the 1992 Ramon Magsaysay Award for Public Service, the Board of Trustees recognizes his pioneering scientific leadership in rehabilitating the coral reefs of the Philippines and in sustaining for Filipinos the natural abundance of their country’s marine life.

There are wonderful surprises that come our way, at one time or another, in our life. And to me this prestigious award is the greatest and most wonderful surprise of all.

I wish to thank the officers of the Magsaysay Award Foundation, particularly those who even began to think of me as deserving of this award to honor the great Philippine president Ramon Magsaysay. I also thank my numerous colleagues, friends, admirers, fellow ecologists, and conservationists for their kind words of congratulations. In my many years of painstaking research—of going deep into our forests and undertaking marine life conservation—a prestigious award of this kind was way beyond my wildest dreams.

I also wish to thank my wife Naomi and our children, whose loving support and understanding allowed me to be away from home for lengths of time pursuing my love of field research, spearheading conservation projects, and attending gatherings of scholars around the world.

I am grateful to Silliman University and Stanford University, which have given me excellent training in my chosen field of biology. And, of course, I thank my many research colleagues and the funding agencies that have made possible what the Magsaysay Award Foundation has perceived to be my achievements.

I hope that the recognition of my life’s work by the foundation serves to boost the morale of many of my fellow biologists and researchers, as well as dedicated teachers who work in relative obscurity.

On this occasion, I think of the great Silliman motto: Via, Veritas, Vita, particularly the word Veritas. I like to think that I’ve been given this award because of my passionate search for biological Truth. Indeed, I think I’ve done this search for Truth the way the great biologist Thomas Huxley described serious study:

Sit down before a fact like a little child. Be prepared to give up every preconceived notion. Follow humbly wherever and whatever depths nature leads. Otherwise you shall learn nothing.

But I also like to think that while I have learned truth in abundance, I have also made it my preoccupation to do the truth, to pursue its practice, to apply what I have learned, particularly in the areas of environmental enrichment and conservation of our nation’s natural wealth.

Indeed, I am highly honored that I am awarded for trying to know and do the truth. At the same time, however, I wish to confess, on behalf of all sincere environmentalists and conservationists, that our endeavors have not been sufficient to stem the tide of human error that has caused such tragedies as Ormoc, the deterioration of our marine life, the denudation of our forest reserves, and the annihilation of what we possess in abundance. In short, the alarming and wanton destruction of our natural resources.

So on this occasion of honor and celebration, allow me to express a warning and a challenge to all of us, Filipinos and Asians: that unless we move fast to put a stop to the rape of our natural resources, we will remain poor, destitute, pitiful, and even become worse off. If the environmental destruction continues without letup, it will be our children and our children’s children who will reap the tragic consequences.

My friends, we now find ourselves at the crossroads between poverty and prosperity. Our future is only as good as what we make of the present.

Learn more about the awardee:

Alcala, Angel Chua

Has decade-rich experience in tropical marine resource conservationa and considered a world class authority in ecology and biogeography of amphibians and reptiles, and is behind the invention of artifical coral reefs to be used for fisheries in Southeast Asia