Seaweed loses name derived from Marcos
MANILA, Philippines — A seaweed named after the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos during the martial law period was removed from the official list of Philippine seaweeds, after a scientist from the University of the Philippines (UP) found evidence that it was of the same species that was discovered more than a decade before.
The species’ name Porphyra marcosii was eliminated from the natural world after its morphology, ecology, and growth and development in culture were found similar to
Phycocalidia vietnamensis, a seaweed that was described from samples from Vietnam and named in 1962.
The marcosii, on the other hand, was described by scientist Paciente Cordero Jr. using samples taken from Burgos, Ilocos Norte province, in 1976, four years after Marcos placed the Philippines under his dictatorial rule.
Locally known as “gamet,” this seaweed is considered the “nori” (Japanese name for edible seaweed) of the Philippines. It is found in northern areas of the country, where they thrive under lower ocean temperatures.
These seaweeds grow on rocky, wave-exposed shores and are collected by locals, who dry them into sheets and sell them in local markets as “pedazo,” which are mixed in salads or soups.
The species was officially removed following the publication of a paper in the journal Notulae Algarum by seaweed taxonomist Wilfred John Santiañez, an assistant professor at the UP Marine Science Institute who also serves as the collections manager of the institute’s G.T. Velasquez Phycological Herbarium, which holds the largest collection of seaweed specimens in the country and in the tropical Western Pacific.
“Ferdinand Marcos was buried in 2016 at Libingan ng mga Bayani,” the Marine Phycology Laboratory, headed also by Santiañez, said, following the paper’s publication.
“This year, through this work, we also ‘bury’ the late dictator’s eponymous seaweed,” it added.
Santiañez said the naming of the seaweed after Marcos was already a “questionable move,” considering the countless human rights violations and abuses that took place under martial law.
“The naming of organisms after a person is usually done to give honor to their contributions,” he told the Inquirer. “It is problematic to give honor to Marcos, considering the atrocities that happened when he ruled the country.”
The similarities between the samples of vietnamensis and marcosii were first raised in 2001 by foreign scientists Hisao Ogawa and Willem F. Prud’homme van Reine, who both suggested that the two seaweeds may be “conspecific.”
In his paper published last week, Santiañez provided a case to transfer the Marcos-named seaweed under the genus Phycocalidia, but not as a distinct taxon, but only as a synonym of the earlier described vietnamensis.
“The name is essentially ‘buried’ and will no longer be used,” he said in an interview. “It will be removed from the list of species found in the Philippines and will no longer be considered as a biodiversity component in the country or elsewhere.”
Santiañez said the country’s gamet industry remains underdeveloped, although it has high economic value considering the high market demand for edible seaweeds that are often used as sushi wrappers.
While vietnamensis is not yet cultivated in other countries where it is found, such as in Thailand, the newfound accuracy in the seaweed’s name could help aid the government and other stakeholders eyeing to develop the seaweed industry in northern Luzon.
“It is important that the names given to organisms are consistent and correct,” Santiañez said. “This will be the benchmark for succeeding development work.”
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