Any chance you’d remember how you came across the term “biodiversity” before? If not, let me make it easier for you by making you pick from the choices listed below instead. Could you have learned about biodiversity through:
A. Printed materials. It could be academic textbooks (don’t be shy now), magazines, posters, or newspapers. Billboards—why not?
B. Radio. Probably from listening to news announcements and radio programs. Or from an FM station, perhaps?
C. TV. Of course, the most popular and widespread broadcast communicating medium in the country. Let’s see: The Discovery Channel? Or late-night documentaries like The Correspondents or The Probe Team?
D. Friends or from other people. Maybe you know somebody who’s into environment stuff, hopefully not a pet collector. Or you’ve been invited to discussions, or a monthly forum? Let’s not forget the classroom.
E. Internet. Surfing the World Wide Web could lead you to environment-related sites, or could get you to this blog, for example.
For me, it would have to be A. I happened to be tidying up the room of our college department laboratory, back at the time when I was already a graduating student. On one of the desks I was arranging, I noticed a book with an attractive front cover showing a pair of Philippine Eagles attending to their offspring. The title read, “Biodiversity, Conservation, and the Community.” I figured the book probably had something to do with animals, but I couldn’t quite define what “biodiversity” was. I was familiar with “bio,” which meant life, then “diversity” meant variety. Ah, variety of life! Easy. I scanned through the pages for a few seconds, then I put the book on a shelf somewhere, never to lay hands on it again until fate brought me to work for a conservation NGO several months later. But just to formally define “biodiversity,” I quote Catibog-Sinha and Heaney from their book, “Philippine Biodiversity: Principles and Practice,” which goes:
Biodiversity means the variety and extent of differences among living things, at the species, genetic, and ecosystem levels.
Most of you who have learned about biodiversity may have found out about it through either of those conventional channels I’ve mentioned above. If you encountered the term for the first time through this blog, that’s really flattering. But that only means you have not heard of it before regardless of whichever medium, which to me indicates that biodiversity, or more specifically Philippine biodiversity, still has a long way to go before it becomes as commonplace as Jollibee in the Philippines.
I mean, every Filipino has heard of Jollibee at least. Kids love eating the ChickenJoy, or even look forward to hugging the adorable, ever-smiling mascot. That’s cool. I like seeing Jollibee too, especially at unlikely places such as a business district intersection, happily waving at people passing by in the morning. But it’s sad thinking that small kids know Jollibee far better than they would know Kabayan, of whom kids would probably first hear about only from textbooks or their school teachers. When I was a kid, my school books taught me about tigers, zebras, and elephants—animals not endemic or natively found in the Philippines—rather than the Visayan Leopard Cat or the Philippine Cockatoo, which were Pinoy wildlife, so to speak.
The fact is, alot of Filipinos are not even aware that the Philippines is one of the most biologically diverse countries in the world. We even have more endemic species compared to Brazil, a country 28 times larger than the Philippines, because of the unique geological history of our islands. In 2005, a study by Carpenter and Springer revealed that Verde Island Passage located between Mindoro and Batangas is the center of the center of marine biodiversity in the world! I just don’t know if I found this revelation more surprising, or the fact that major broadsheets just published this important discovery only earlier this year.
According to a study commissioned by Haribon some years back: for people living in Metro Manila, air, water, or solid waste pollution came to mind first when they were asked about the environment. Biodiversity was also mentioned, but only by a measly 1% of the total survey sample. Imagine that, just 1 out of every 100 persons. It was to be expected, I believe, since those brown issues were the more immediate concerns of people living in the city. On the other hand, based on my observations, communities in the provinces were more aware of biodiversity compared to city-dwellers because the forest or the sea is their backyard, and they rely on the services it provides for their daily needs; although some communities ironically take for granted the importance of conserving resources for the long-term due to lack of other livelihood options.
The bottom line, I believe, is that Philippine biodiversity has yet to permeate the mainstream collective consciousness of Filipinos. More Filipinos, whether living here in the country or elsewhere, need to be aware of their natural heritage and understand its importance and benefits.
But hasn’t alot of information on Philippine biodiversity been published even just over the last decade? Haven’t biodiversity projects around the country with huge funding by both international and local donors been implemented by various organizations and environmental groups? Definitely yes on both counts. I can be sure that many of those projects included environmental education or information dissemination components to impart knowledge on biodiversity to the general public.
Published material may be the most widely used or preferred medium for disseminating information to the public since it is cheap to reproduce and easy to distribute. You can hardly even keep track of all the brochures, magazines, and flyers ever published on Philippine biodiversity. However, the main drawback could be that limited copies are available. Access to the information also may be restricted, or maybe not freely available to the public. Sometimes, you’d have to file a request from the data provider, which could prove to be bureaucratic. In some cases, the low level of literacy of people, particularly in the rural communities, posed as a more serious hindrance.
Broadcasting on radios, as I’ve found out, have also been effectively used for biodiversity conservation, especially in the provinces not yet reached by electricity as transistor radios only need batteries to operate. Donald Afan, a fellow conservationist who was a former field biologist of the Philippine Eagle Foundation, told me that they wanted to find the whereabouts of Philippine Eagle and their nests in Mindanao. But rather than immediately scouring the remaining forest areas one by one to search for the eagles, which could have been ineffective and futile; they ingeniously broadcasted over the radio stations across Mindanao that they were looking for eagles of a given description, and promised a small reward for people who could successfully pinpoint to them where they were located. The strategy proved to be effective, and soon locals were reporting the sightings of eagles or even confirmed their nest locations.
Television may undoubtedly be the most effective medium if you want to get your message across to so many people in so many places at once. An obvious example is the invasion of campaign ads on TV by many senatorial candidates during the last elections. Conservation organizations, like Haribon, have also utilized this resource to promote Philippine biodiversity. “Wealth” was one infomercial shown on TV (more from their website). However, getting airtime on primetime TV could cost a fortune, and unless you have the financial resources to pay for it you might as well consider other options. The same can also be said for placing ads on the radio.
The Center for Environmental Awareness and Education made a groundbreaking effort by launching a filmfest called the Moonrise Festival to invite filmmakers to produce films focused on the environment and cultural issues. Just last April, they embarked on Endangered Tales, a comprehensive film documentary about Philippine biodiversity, which was shown in SM Megamall in celebration of Earth Day.
These are just to cite a few examples among so many others. But if alot of Filipinos are still not aware of Philippine biodiversity like I said earlier, could that mean these previous efforts and alot others failed in communicating biodiversity to the greater Filipino public? Maybe not entirely. There is surely merit to these efforts as their messages will never fall entirely on deaf ears or blind eyes. Someone is sure to listen and take up the message. Maybe, the question should rather be how effective these previous efforts were in getting the message across?
I guess, in this day and age where information is virtually on our fingertips, there’s just too much information for each individual to digest at any one time. People easily get bored and want the new things as soon as they arrive. Attention spans of people are just too short. But people can hardly be blamed because the nature of technology is that people have to keep up with it and its development. Television has given us alot of shows to choose from, if not too many, that we keep on surfing channels if one show can’t hold our interest.
Another reason could also be the traditional methods that we in conservation work use to communicate biodiversity might be effective to some, but not to alot of other Filipinos. Ever wondered why there are no television programs on environment aired on local primetime? It’s just telenovela after telenovela. And if you surprisingly happen to watch something environment-related, it’s on the late night documentary shows or the news programs. Why is it that Wowowee holds the highest ratings on Philippine TV? Or that more Filipinos would prefer watching that compared to a documentary of Philippine wildlife any day?
Clearly, there is a need to be more creative and imaginative in communicating Philippine biodiversity if we want alot more Filipinos to become aware of it, and eventually take pride in it. While biodiversity will always have its place on academic textbooks, we have to find ways to demystify it or take it to the mundane places where common people can easily understand it or relate it to themselves.
In one conference I attended, Antonio Contreras who was a professor then on political sciences at De La Salle University, voiced the same sentiments by asking why can’t we make use of popular telenovelas like Mulawin to promote biodiversity. Think about it. We’ve heard of unconventional ways of promoting biodiversity nowadays like mall exhibits or concerts to capitalize on people flocking these places, using Philippine wildlife endemics as mascots in town fiestas, using vehicles for mobile education, fun runs and kite festivals, and wildlife photography contests. Our team is trying our hand at blogging and so we launched Samu’t Saring Buhay just last month, which we hope will also be effective. What if we can somehow incorporate and advocate biodiversity in radio stations like 101.1 Love Radio, or in TV shows like Rounin or Pinoy Big Brother?
We have to think out of the box.
[Credits: Book front cover by DENR-NIPAP, Infomercial TV clips by Haribon, and Visayan Leopard Cat and Endangered Tales video clip by CEAE]