The center of the center

Michael Alan Hamlin

Posted on August 2, 2007

The environment is a profoundly unique resource for the Philippines

I wrote this column on the veranda of the Club Paradise clubhouse in Busuanga, Palawan. The staff informed me that the weather the week prior was cool and stormy, but it was scorching as I labored away. Because it is the off season, there were only around 20 guests on the island last week, and significant renovation work was taking place, and it included the Sunrise Beach cottages where we usually stay. This, time, we were on Sunset Beach.

If I am counting correctly, last week’s trip was the eighth time we’ve stayed on this lovely island for a few, too-short days. Last year, when our visit coincided with the tail end of the peak season, I wrote that the resort appeared to be experiencing a surge in demand, with close to a full house of Asian, European, and American tourists. I also noted that the coral reef was making an impressive rebound, several years after the area around the resort was declared a wildlife preserve and fishing was prohibited.

Progress continues. It is naturally good and proper to see the environment restored. For the Philippines, the environment and its protection are particularly meaningful issues, because this ecosystem is a profoundly unique resource. There are many who might scoff at that notion. In fact, Asia is full of incredibly beautiful resorts nestled in near-perfect natural settings. And many countries have worked much harder at keeping their pristine environments that way.

Fortunately for the Philippines, despite years of neglect and unregulated exploitation, the country remains a treasure of biodiversity in a way that no other nation can claim. A recent study by Dr. Kent E. Carpenter of Conservation International and Dr. Victor G. Springer of the U.S. National Museum concludes that the Philippines is not just at the center of global biodiversity, it is the center of the center of biodiversity.

Carpenter presented the results of his study, “The Center of the Center of Marine Biodiversity: the Philippine Islands,” at the recent League of Corporate Foundations annual conference, “Putting CSR to the Test: Cultivating Shared Values for Business and Society.” According to Carpenter, the Indo-Malay-Philippine Archipelago (IMPA) has long been considered the area of highest marine diversity.

If you were to draw this area on a map, it would extend in the form of a triangle from north of Luzon to Papua New Guinea to the east, and across the Cocos Islands of Australia to the west. Carter and Springer set out to identify within this archipelago the richest sources of biodiversity. To accomplish that goal, they used almost 3,000 generalized maps showing distribution of specific marine species within the IMPA. All the maps were generated by other scientists.

When the maps were overlaid using special software, the preliminary analysis showed the typical IMPA “bullseye” of biodiversity. However, when Carpenter looked at the area with the top 10 percent of concentrated diversity within IMPA, the “bullseye” came into focus. It showed that the central Philippines, extending from Subic to the northern coast of Mindanao, is home to more marine species than any other place on earth.

Carpenter was surprised with the result, having expected the Sulawesi Moluccan area to have the highest biodiversity. “However, the top 2.5 percent of species richness is found in the Philippines,” he concluded. It contains “up to 1,736 species, or nearly 60 percent of all species in the study.” A secondary area of diversity was found around Northeast Sumatra and North Java, but the Philippines was clearly the center of the center of IMPA biodiversity.

Carpenter knew his results would be challenged – and he apparently jokingly says his long experience in the Philippines and his marriage to a Filipina might open him to charges of bias. However, he notes that it would be impossible for him to influence the results when the study was based on the independent findings of 100 other experts. Nevertheless, Carpenter drilled down into the data to show that the “bullseye” pattern was consistent across taxa. In other words, the Philippines is the center of the center of biodiversity not just for fish, but individual species such as invertebrates and coral as well. Finally, the pattern was later repeated in separate, independent studies.

So the Philippines has much at stake when it comes to protecting its environment. Aside from the usual concerns, it provides a unique value proposition in communicating its brand. Although there are many other attributes required for a brand to resonate in the market, being the legitimate center of the center of biodiversity is an incredibly important quality that competing brands can’t emulate.

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