For our final Scientist Spotlight, we feature no other than Oceana’s very own and Panaon Expedition Team Leader, Mar Saniano. From staying up late to watch documentaries on television, she ably coordinated the latest Oceana scientific expedition to protect the coral reefs of the Philippines.
What made you decide to become a marine scientist?
Early in my childhood, my sister and I were very fond of watching Discovery Channel and documentaries about the environment. We would stay up until wee hours just to watch and learn more about the ocean. I guess from that point on, my path was pretty much laid out for me. I went to a science high school that required us to take courses related to science and technology. In college, I decided to take up Biology and specialized in Zoology at the University of the Philippines Los Baños. I also took my Master’s Degree in Zoology with Environmental Science as a cognate. From then on, it’s been a conscious decision on my part to work in the field of science and conservation.
What’s the best part about being a marine scientist?
For me, it is being able to understand the fundamentals of the marine world and you get the opportunity to explain to decision-makers to aid them in creating policies that affect their constituents and the environment as well. When science is being heard and rightfully considered in environment-related planning and implementation, it gives me a great sense of accomplishment.
What advice can you give to aspiring scientists?
Give it back. All that you know about science, you need to give it back in any form possible. Whether explaining to a four-year old why it rains or talking to a decision-maker about the negative impacts of cutting down mangroves, both should be done with passion and conviction. Simplify your explanation and strive for science to be heard.
Work-from-the-ship essentials: these objects give us hints of Mar’s various responsibilities as an Oceana campaigner and expedition captain.
Can you tell us more about the work you do as a marine scientist for Oceana handling the Marine Protected Areas campaign?
I am still with the Science Team but my work now is more on advocacy and managing campaign centered on habitat protection. I have worked for the protection of Benham Bank, the shallowest portion of Philippine Rise, and now, I am working to push for protection of the coral reefs of Panaon Island. During the span of a campaign, I get to organize scientific expedition and discuss the findings with fellow marine scientists. We then present these findings to decision-makers and convince them that their astounding reefs require urgent protection.
Your first expedition for Oceana was the Benham Bank expedition. Can you tell us about its success and its impact to marine conservation?
The Benham Bank expedition was special in its own way. Benham Bank is the shallowest portion of the Philippine though it is not really that shallow when you realize that it is around 40 – 70 meters deep and diving conditions are not for ordinary open water divers. With the help of high technology equipment like Remote Underwater Vehicle and scooters, we were able to stay a little longer underwater at those depths. This allowed us to get more data for our scientists to analyze, and more importantly, we were able to capture very good images and footage of what it is like at those depths for every Filipino to see. The immediate impact of the expedition was that people saw the untouched and pristine condition of vast live foliose corals in some parts of the bank. This expedition has instantly introduced mesophotic reefs and their importance at the midst of global climate crisis. The pictures were able to convey to our key decision-makers that there are living organisms and thriving communities even at mesophotic depths.
You’ve been working as a marine scientist for Oceana for more than five years. What more do you wish to accomplish in your field?
It has been a gargantuan challenge for environmentalists and scientists to be heard. Time has shown that if only people would listen to science and if we took care of nature, catastrophes and negative impacts of climate crisis could have been mitigated. My wish is for more scientists to become better communicators and for decision-makers to become better listeners of science.