Through high tides and low tides with CrabTECH

At its core, CrabTECH Innovations strives to build a network of crab farmers and equip them with 21st century skills.

While many people have sailed and conquered the seas, women have had to buck the tides of sexism when exploring, studying, and conserving marine resources. Much like how Ariel from The Little Mermaid has plenty of “thingamabobs,” women scientists also have their own collection of inventions that have significant impacts on the lives of others. 

Among these brilliant minds is Dr. Chona Camille Vince Cruz-Abeledo, a coordinator of the DLSU Br. Alfred Shields FSC Marine Station (BrAMS). Apart from her long career as an educator, including her experience in the Department of Biology, she has also been steadfast in her efforts to help Filipino farmers and fishermen through her science network SHE-ensya and startup CrabTECH Innovations.

Gadgets and gizmos

CrabTECH Innovations combines the latest research in ecology and molecular biology to produce food sustainably and support the mangrove crab industry. With her team, Abeledo collaborates with other professionals in the Gokongwei College of Engineering (GCOE) and the College of Computer Studies (CCS) to operate the startup.

The startup began as a research project led by Dr. Ma. Carmen Ablan Lagman, a full-time professor of bioinformatics and molecular biology in the University. At the time, Abeledo was studying for her PhD under Lagman, who gave her the chance to conduct a population-genetic study among the different mangrove crabs in the Philippines. This eye-opening endeavor later drove Abeledo to further this project and create CrabTECH Innovations. 

She narrates, “One of the first problems that I added to my dissertation was on species identification of juveniles.” According to Abeledo, only one out of three species of crablets—small, young crabs—are in high demand in the Philippines. However, many fishermen could not identify the differences between these species. “It’s often a concern if you catch crablets and they turn out to be not the preferred species.”

In response to this problem, two mobile applications were born: Crabifier and Alinmango. While both technologies ultimately aim to assist crab farmers, they address different aspects of the crab farming process. 

In essence, Crabifier aids in identifying crab species based on their physical characteristics that are too subtle to be seen by the naked eye. With the help of CCS Assistant Professor Courtney Anne Ngo, Abeledo managed to develop an app that boasts a 92.4 percent accurate identification system, allowing farmers to raise their income by 25 percent and reduce wasted resources by 10 percent.

Meanwhile, Alinmango could be described as a “dating app” that matches crablets toward suitable pond environments to avoid increasing stress-induced mortality rates. “We’re currently still improving the algorithm but so far, from our preliminary deployment, we’ve seen a reduction of 40 to 60 percent mortality compared to 80 to 100 percent mortalities that were being reported before,” Abeledo explains.

With apps like Crabifier and Alinmango, crab farmers can dramatically improve the yields and quality of their products.

Swimming against the tides

Behind every success story are countless hardships and obstacles. For Abeledo, one of the biggest challenges she had to face was acquiring funds for her research. She says that the University has its own procedure to ensure that research grants are used responsibly. Although she understands its necessity, she believes that this process could be improved so that the timeline of a project will not be compromised. “Considering the multiple responsibilities of the different offices that we have here, the implementation of these checks and balances often results in a lot of delays,” Abeledo posits.  

Moreover, carrying out the proposal, conducting laboratory work, and meeting with the concerned communities could also be taxing. 

To overcome these challenges, she suggests keeping it simple by breaking down the big problem into smaller parts. By reducing the problem, she believes that it could prevent people from becoming overwhelmed. She also recommends making a long-term plan that connects those smaller solutions. Having an accessible and sustainable plan will ensure that the research will be published and delivered to the public, instead of staying in the hallowed halls of the University. 

As a woman, Abeledo is not a stranger to gender inequality and bias within the field of science. “Filipino traditions are not used to having women scientists,” she argues. Throughout her career, she had to confront the skeptical and condescending reactions of her peers, who sometimes questioned her capabilities, especially during more dangerous projects: “They (mangrove crabs) live in mud, so it would entail getting dirty and going into dangerous situations. [And] people often underestimate my ability to go to those kinds of environments.”

Nevertheless, “with a lot of tears,” she overcame this frustrating experience and proved to the world that she is just as valuable as her male colleagues, even winning the 2023 Academy for Women Entrepreneurs Award for her impactful work with CrabTECH Innovations. She attributes all her accomplishments to her grit and passion for being a scientist, “It’s just that when you’re passionate about something, you know you cannot stop when a barrier comes in front of you.”

An accessible science

Abeledo wants to create a more welcoming and inclusive environment for her team and all members of the crab farming industry. While studying the different crab farming practices in the country, she learned that approximately 30 percent of women are working in this industry, with 15 to 25 percent of them having one of the best farming practices. By highlighting their work, Abeledo strives to eliminate bias toward women in the field.

She also recently started her own science channel on YouTube, SHE-ensya, to further promote gender diversity in the field of STEM. This approach also allows her to be a role model for other women and young girls. Through these projects, she wants to show the youth that the scientific community is not a closed world high up in the “Ivory Towers” of academia. Rather, it is a promising and growing space for curious minds. 

Moreover, Abeledo and her team are currently exploring more initiatives within CrabTECH Innovations to make a difference in the country. Her dream is to develop a technology that could act as a “linchpin” that connects and supports coastal communities all over the Philippines. She also plans to apply these technologies to other species in the future, such as glass eels, shrimps, and mussels. In pursuit of that goal, she and her team are now in talks with the Department of Science and Technology to expand the algorithm of Alinmango to cover inland freshwater species of crabs. 

For Abeledo, the most rewarding part of her job is the way it allows her to solve some of society’s most pressing problems. Finding solutions to these problems might be hard, but as she puts it, “It is an amazing thing to wake up for every morning. You never get to run out of problems to solve, but you never also run out of inspiration, especially when you see the people that will benefit from the technologies that you’re creating.”

This article was published in The LaSallian‘s March 2024 issue. To read more, visit

Bret Cornelia

By Bret Cornelia

Ivan Gabriel Pilien

By Ivan Gabriel Pilien

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