about this website
Contreras/Philippine Daily Inquirer/August 2000
SOMETHING'S fishy about this
team of mostly Filipino science enthusiasts making a big splash on the
Internet. But no, this is not concerning another "Iloveyou" virus.
After 10 years of work at
their base in Los Baños, Laguna, 14 local marine researchers along with
three foreign supervisors produced the first and most comprehensive
online database about one of the most diverse life forms on earth--fish.
The database, found at http://www.fishbase.org/search.html
, is an electronic encyclopedia containing the latest and richest
information on all types of fishes known to man, all the 25,063
species, which make up 47 percent of all vertebrate creatures.
Its creators are from the
International Center for Living Aquatic Resources Management (Iclarm)
with a Philippine base at the International Rice Research Institute
complex in Los Baños.
Iclarm-aka The World Fish
Center--initiated the Fishbase project in 1990 on a $5.8-million grant
from the European Union.
The achievement is
considered the piscean equivalent of the human genome project, the
celebrated quest to map out the human genetic code.
Indeed, as one researcher
put it, "fish leads all of creation" because the Fishbase project is
the first completed effort in line with the ambitious scientific
initiative called Species 2000, the plan to electronically catalogue
all of the planet's 1.75 million known species, flora and fauna.
Ocean of knowledge
A few clicks of the mouse
can provide Net surfers--children, students, hobbyists and business and
academic researchers--an ocean of knowledge that will make them see
aquatic life in a new light, in all its complexity, color and grandeur.
And ultimately, they might
appreciate how much of this underwater world is now under threat
because of man's assault on the marine ecosystem through pollution,
overfishing, and sheer ignorance about life's fragile cycles.
The Fishbase team, headed by
a German project leader, Dr. Rainer Froese, tapped over 500 other
marine life experts and research centers all over the globe for
references. They are referred to as collaborators in the project.
Leading the Filipino
component is Dr. Maria Lourdes Palomares, marine biologist, who said
that Fishbase contains entries on 271 fish species found in Philippine
The other members are Aque
Atanacio, Cris Binohlan, Emily Capuli, Christine Casal, Lem Casten,
Tess Cruz, Nina Garilao, Tuttay Luna, Grace Pablico, Rudy Reyes, Skit
Rius, Pasky Saa and Arlene Sampang.
The other foreigners in the
group are Dr. Daniel Pauly, senior scientific advisor; and Boris
Fabres, network coordinator.
The website was designed by
Eli Agbayani and Meynard Gilhang.
Fishbase.com is both a
tantalizing source of trivia and a venue for serious study. It reveals,
for example, that while relying on 6,976 species of fish for food,
medicine, ornament, or sport, humankind fearfully avoids or drives away
630 other species because they ferociously bite, poison, or, even
And of the 630 predator
species, 4 percent do "other disgusting things" to humans, said Dr.
Froese, apparently dropping a teaser for website visitors, in a simple
program last week when Iclarm formally announced that it had catalogued
all the 25,000 known fish species.
And not everyone knows that
fishes have a variety of sex lives that seem to come straight out of
science fiction. Consider this:
o Members of some species
first spend their lives as females, then become males as they age, and
vice-versa. There are at least 26 species whose members are bisexual or
hermaphrodites. And then at least two species have "no males." How do
they reproduce? That's for the website visitors to find out.
Stranger still, some fishes
conceive in the mouth, others in pouches. While most species simply let
egg and sperm cells meet in open water.
But beyond providing such
fantastic facts, www.fishbase.org can be a major research tool catering
to science professionals, schools, institutions, non-government
organizations, museums, companies, and, yes, entire governments.
It provides graphs and
tables on how big the fish population is in a particular segment of the
Earth, in the open seas or inland bodies of water.
It also provides information
on global trends in fish catch (which doesn't look good, according to
Fishbase); and other solid data that can serve various ends, from
making a term paper to forming state policy.
Dr. Daniel Pauly, scientific
adviser to Fishbase and a guest during last week's affair, said the
website can be accessed by the environment or agriculture departments
of various countries to help them meet their international commitments
in managing marine resources.
He noted that mainly for
lack of materials on how to draw up a sustainable program to preserve
their marine ecosystems, governments, particularly those of developing
countries, cannot fulfill the pledges they've made as signatories to
the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.