Saving endangered species through social marketing

In Photo: “Barry,” the rabbitfish mascot.

MEET “Barry,” “Pawi” and “Debbie.” They are the three mascots representing the flagship species of the protected areas in Cagayan Valley.

Barry, short for barangan, is actually a rabbitfish Siganidae, the flagship species of the Palaui Island Protected Landscapes and Seascapes (PIPLS) in Santa Ana, Cagayan.

“Debb ie,” the flying fish mascot, with a young girl.

International Coastal Cleanup

Barry’s recent launching highlighted this year’s International Coastal Cleanup Day, a yearly activity spearheaded by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR).

A global effort, the International Coastal Cleanup aims to protect coastal and marine areas against pollution caused by irresponsible garbage disposal and inspire behavioral change toward reducing single-use plastic materials.

In Cagayan Valley, the DENR solicited the support of various stakeholders to join the global effort to remove debris from the ocean— particularly plastic. Proclamation 470 Series 2003 declared every third Saturday of September as the International Coastal Cleanup Day.

Cagayan Valley has a total coastline of 1,247.49 kilometers, where the annual International Coastal Cleanup was held.

Mascot flagship species

In June and August, the DENR Cagayan Valley Office launched its flagship species “Pawi” of the Northern Sierra Madre Natural Park (NSMNP) in Isabela, and “Debbie” of the Batanes Protected Landscapes and Seascapes.

“Pawi,” short for pawikan, a hawksbill sea turtle, and “Debbie,” from the Ivatan word dibang, a flying fish, were selected by the different environmental stakeholders through a survey and focus group discussions.

Mascot Debbie was launched by DENR Cagayan Valley Director Atty. Gil A. Aromin and Provincial Environment and Natural Resources Officer in Charge Marcelo G. Bumidang on June 25, in celebration of the Philippine Environment Month.

Assistant Regional Director for Technical Services Felix C. Tabu led the launch of mascot Pawi in the coastal town of Dinapigue, Isabela, on August 15 with Mayor Reynaldo P. Derije and Palanan DENR Officer Federico P. Cauilan Jr.

“Pawi,” the marine turtle mascot with children.

Social marketing tool

The species mascots are social marketing tools under the flagship communication campaign of the Coastal and Marine Ecosystems Management Program (CMEMP) and represents the protected area’s (PA) campaign slogan “You and me for the sea.”

A national program that aims to comprehensively manage, address and effectively reduce the drivers and threats of degradation of the coastal and marine ecosystems, CMEMP seeks to achieve and promote sustainability of ecosystem services, food security and climate-change resiliency.

The mascots will be the symbol to stimulate awareness of the people for them to consequently take action in the conservation and protection of coastal and marine resources, Aromin said.

Interviewed by the BusinessMirror, Aromin said the DENR has been soliciting community support to sustain the rich biodiversity in the region, especially those that are found within the three protected areas, and to promote responsible ecotourism.

Popularizing species

Unknown to communities, many Philippine species had gone extinct even before they were recorded to exist, apparently, because of lack of if not poor appreciation of their importance.

The DENR has been conducting information, education and communication (IEC) campaigns to increase public awareness on biodiversity, with the hope of saving threatened species from extinction. One way is to “popularize” some of these threatened species, giving them life-size, cute and cuddly representations through lovable mascots.

In the sports field, mascots are used either as a person, animal or object adopted by a group or a team as a symbolic figure, especially to bring them luck. 

The use of mascots is also a marketing strategy to promote a particular company, brand or product, which consumers can easily identify them with.

Josefina de Leon, head of the Wildlife Resources Division of the DENR’s Biodiversity Management Bureau (BMB), told the BusinessMirror the use of mascots is effective in enhancing the DENR’s information campaign for threatened species’s protection and conservation.

Interviewed recently through Facebook’s Messenger, de Leon believes that the use of mascots helps increase awareness better and bring people, especially children, closer to threatened species.

 “It [mascot] leaves a mark in the minds of the people [through] the appearance or how they look. Mascots are also effective for photo opportunities with children, and the photos can always remind the children about the [specific] threatened species,” de Leon pointed out.

 “Our mascots are like [those of the popular fast-foods]. Children love them. As part of our [IEC] campaign to enhance awareness about our environment and natural resources, the DENR visits a school to educate our young students and our mascots really help encourage them to learn more,” Aromin told the BusinessMirror in a telephone interview last month.

Aromin said the mascot flagship species gives life to their on-going campaigns to educate not only the children but also the community, especially during public gatherings and events.

One species, one PA

Mascots Barry, Pawi and Debbie each represents the flagship species associated with a particular PAs in Cagayan Valley.

Barry is known to exist in the PIPLS. Declared as a National Marine Reserve on August 28, 1994, the PIPLS is an area of 7,145 hectares. The waters around the island boast of 21 commercial species of fishes with about 50 hectares of corals, according to the DENR-BMB.

Palaui Island is home to 105 species of rattan and similarly commercially valuable timber-producing wood species, plus 25 imported shrubs and is the sanctuary for 90 migratory birds.

Incidentally, the PIPLS is the DENR Cagayan Valley’s newest pride and honor after it was awarded the third Outstanding National Integrated Protected Areas System-Marine Protected Areas (Nipas-MPA) in the country in 2017.

The award was given by the MPA Support Network Philippines during the “Para el Mar [For the Sea]” MPA Awards and Recognition in Iloilo City.

Pawi, meanwhile, represents the NSMNP in Isabela, the largest PA in the Philippines that covers the northern range of the Sierra Madre mountains. With a total of 359,486 hectares, the park is considered the richest in terms of genetic, species and habitat diversity in the Philippines.

It is one of the country’s 10 priority protected areas managed by its own PAs Management Board, headed by the regional executive director of the DENR for the Cagayan Valley Region as mandated by Republic Act 9125, also known as the NSMNP Act of 2001.

 In 2006 the PA was added to the Philippines’s tentative list of potential United Nations, Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (Unesco) World Heritage Site.

On the other hand, Debbie represents the Batanes Protected Landscapes and Seascapes (BPLS) in the island-province of Batanes, which covers the entire province of Batanes, another potential Unesco World Heritage Site in the Philippines.

The entire province covers a total land area of 213,578 hectares. 

Owing to its unique features and diverse flora and fauna, the Batanes group of islands was proclaimed as the BPLS pursuant to Presidential Proclamation 335 by former President Fidel V. Ramos in 1994, subsequently under Republic Act 8991 on January 2001.

The entire province is rich in flora and fauna. According to the DENR-BMB, there are at least 96 species of ferns and fern allies belonging to 49 genera and 25 families recorded in Mount Iraya vicinities.

Another biological richness is the flowering plants found in Batanes. Of the 42 flowering plants found only in the Philippines, seven are found only in Batanes. These are kanarem (Diospyros sabtanensis), riwas (Drypetes falcata), vua (Areca catechu var. sabtanensis), voyavoy (Phoenix hanceana var. Philippinensis), gagadang (Hydrangea subiregral), tangaw and vuhuan.

Debbie, a flying fish, is now the star of all fish species because people in Batanes have found ways to process, bottle or package it in cans.

Whether for food, income or livelihood, the use of the mascot flagship species makes biodiversity conservation and protection more exciting through social marketing.

Image Credits: DENR Cagayan Valley

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Jonathan L. Mayuga is a journalist for more than 15 years. He is a product of the University of the East – Manila. An awardee of the J. G. Burgos Biotech Journalism Awards, BrightLeaf Agricultural Journalism Awards, Binhi Agricultural Journalism Awards, and Sarihay Environmental Journalism Awards.

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