She has BS Zoology, PhD Marine Science (University of the Philippines Diliman) and MA Zoology (Indiana University) degrees. She taught at the Mindanao State University, but a rebellion made her growing family flee to relative peace in Iloilo, central Philippines and a job with the SEAFDEC Aquaculture Department. From her 1980s studies, she rang early warning bells on the perils of unplanned aquaculture. Her research shifted to the mangrove-penaeid shrimp connection and mangrove-friendly aquaculture for which she was conferred a PhD in Science honoris causa by Stockholm University. The citation read: “… she has shown that mangroves are key areas for recruitment of fish and shrimp and that development of conventional shrimp farming may have far reaching negative economic and social implications …[To] create sustainable alternatives she is now doing research on … integrated farming of shrimp, fish, crabs and mangrove.”
She has around 130 scientific papers, reviews, manuals, books and other publications (mostly as senior author), including the Handbook of Mangroves in the Philippines – Panay and Beach Forests and Mangrove Associates in the Philippines, winners of the Outstanding Book Award of the National Academy of Science and Technology in 2005 and 2012, respectively;
She was elected to the Swedish Royal Academy on Agriculture and Forestry, Royal Belgian Academy for Overseas Sciences, Phi Kappa Phi, and other honor societies. Among her awards are the Dr. Elvira Tan Memorial Award (PCAMRD) for Best Paper in Aquaculture/Fisheries (1988, 1994, 2000 and 2004); PhD in Science honoris causa from Stockholm University in 2004; and a Pew Fellowship in Marine Conservation in 2005. She was named Scientist Emerita of SEAFDEC/AQD upon retirement in 2007, one of 30 Time Magazine Heroes of the Environment and 50 DOST Men and Women of Science in 2008, and a University of the Philippines Distinguished Alumni Awardee in Environmental Conservation and Sustainable Development in 2009.
Approaching the end of an active and fruitful career in science, she takes pride in helping mold the younger generation of Filipino scientists, and in pushing the frontiers of aquaculture and ecology research through her studies on the penaeid prawns and shrimps, most especially the giant tiger prawn Penaeus monodon and on mangroves. But the biologist in her takes greater pride in the rearing of four offspring, now all grown up and all very successful in their own right, taking after their mother. Whatever free time she has is spent tending her frontyard nursery of native plants, protecting a 20-year old rehabilitated forest in Miagao, Iloilo, and planting native saplings to restore a 3-hectare mini-forest in nearby Oton.
Presently she is the Chief Mangrove Scientific Advisor of the Zoological Society of London and Co-Chair of the recently established Mangrove Specialist Group of the IUCN.