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Scientist Profile: Kurt Bacharo, Black Coral specialist and Ocean Census Participant Scientist

A quick discussion with Kurt Bacharo, a black coral specialist embarking on the Ocean Census-JAMSTEC expedition to the Philippine Sea.

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Much of my enthusiasm centers around the possibility of potentially finding undescribed black coral species present in the limestone caves and ridges.”

Kurt Bacharo, a marine biologist from the Philippines, specializes in black corals. Fueled by his childhood fascination with nature, he has devoted his research to understanding shallow-water black corals of Mactan Island, Philippines, but is eager to uncover undiscovered deep-sea life. He earned his masters in Marine Biology from the University of San Carlos in Cebu City, Philippines. 

What is your academic background and area of expertise?

KB: Born and raised in a poorly developed village in the Philippines, I observed at an early age that opportunities in the global south are scarce. Thanks to my parents who have always placed the highest value on education, I was able to finish my bachelor’s degree in marine biology from the University of San Carlos in Cebu City, Philippines. Later, I earned a master’s degree in marine biology from the same institution. In both degrees, I have worked with the taxonomy of black corals. 

Being mostly found in deep waters and CITES-listed, studying these invertebrates presented logistical challenges. With various support from mentors and the black coral community, such as Drs. Dennis Opresko, Mercer Brugler, Marzia Bo, and Jeremy Horowitz, I was able to navigate my way through the intricacies of black coral taxonomy. One of the highlights of my undergraduate work was the report of Antipathes griggi extending its known distribution, which was at that time constrained to the Hawaiian Archipelago. 

Why were you drawn to marine science as a career?

KB: The choice of marine science as a career was mainly driven by my passion for wildlife, which started because my father, who was at that time an Overseas Filipino Worker (OFW) in the Middle East, would bring us stacks of National Geographic magazines back with him. We also had a personal computer with Encarta for the family, all of this field my love for biology, which I carried with me to high school.

So after graduating, I persisted in my goals to become a biologist. With my interest and fascination about wildlife and nature, I thought a degree in Marine Biology/Science would be my niche.

What excites you the most about the upcoming Ocean Census JAMSTEC expedition?

KB: Since 2017, I have been working on the black corals of Mactan Island, Philippines, with emphasis only on the shallow-water varieties, as these are the only components that can be accessed by conventional scuba diving. Anything deeper is challenging in the Philippines. 

With the opportunity provided by the Ocean Census/JAMSTEC expedition, I will be on my first cruise where I will be encountering many deep-sea critters. These include deep-sea black corals that I used to just see in photos of literature that I read or in the live Schmidt Ocean Institute expeditions that I used to just watch. Much of my enthusiasm centers around the possibility of potentially undescribed black coral species present in the limestone caves and ridges. Lastly, I am also excited about the fruitful interaction of taxonomists on board.

If you’re a scientist interested in supporting our mission, we’re inviting specialists in taxonomy, marine biology and related fields to join the Ocean Census Science Network.

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