It is no coincidence that this charismatic Filipino joined the Global Reef Expedition as a Foundation Fellow in its course across the Pacific Ocean. For the last 12 years of his life, Badi has been identifying and counting reef fish of all colours, sizes and shapes … building his mental ‘fish encyclopedia.’ What is remarkable about his skill, is that it takes an incredible photographic memory to ‘put a name to a face’ when it comes to identifying fish.
In the Pacific Ocean, trying to remember fish names when you are floating amidst extraordinarily colourful clouds of them could be as daunting as trying to remember the names (and surnames!) of more than a hundred of your friends at a party.
Badi is not precisely the kind of host who would remember the names of hundreds of his party guests, but he certainly can name, count and estimate the size of 150 fish species in a single dive. His eyes are always on the lookout for the tiniest of creatures, like this goby he found sitting comfortably in a coral.
But he never discards the possibility of being surprised by enormous giants like this whale shark that came out of nowhere on one of his dives back home.
When I asked Badi how he started putting together the pages of this comprehensive fish encyclopedia he carries in his brain, he confessed it all started with a huge passion to learn about fish and a few visits to fish markets and pet shops. Later, when he started diving, the trick was to match his mental image of the fish he saw underwater, immediately after a dive, with those available in useful online tools like Fishbase (http://www.fishbase.org/) or in printed photographic books.
Most of the time Badi finds that identifying fish gets easier as he becomes familiar with a particular region. However, he finds himself in trouble when fish play mimicry tricks. Such is the case of the mimic surgeonfish that imitates the lemon peel angelfish. One must look very close to distinguish these two species, which look identical and only behave slightly differently than each other.
Badi has been on board for two GRE missions so far, Galápagos and Society Islands, here in French Polynesia. Already, he feels his mental fish encyclopedia has grown immensely, by sharing fish sightings, and by being ready to listen to what other experts on board saw underwater. He is looking forward to future missions on the Golden Shadow, where he will continue to conduct reef fish surveys. He is hoping to see his data used in combination with other research components to generate useful information that supports efforts and initiatives to protect the world’s coral reefs.
More than anything, Badi wishes to share his knowledge with school children back home, and help them experience the multicoloured world of reef fishes, as they may become the next generation of coral reef scientists … and human fish encyclopedias!
(Photos by: 1 Sonia Bejarano, 2-4 Badi Samaniego)
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