Philippine Corals

by Francisco Nemenzo

Prof. Francisco Nemenzo

"Father of Philippine Coral Taxonomy"

A renowned academic and naturalist, he earned his BS and MS in Zoology at the University of the Philippines in Diliman, Quezon City. He went on to teach at the same university, eventually holding the prestigious title of Professor Emeritus. In addition, he also earned an MA from the University of Michigan, USA.

Prof. Nemenzo devoted his life to the study of Philippine corals. He was among the first to do so, as the only previous work dealing extensively on the subject had been conducted some 30 years prior, based exclusively on specimens deposited in museums in the United States.

Despite never pursuing a doctorate or donning a SCUBA tank, Nemenzo meticulously described and catalogued over 375 species of corals, including 94 new species and five new varieties. His work was published in seven volumes of “Systematic Studies on Philippine Shallow-Water Scleractinians” and several standalone papers, a process which took over 20 years. Nemenzo insisted on publishing these in local scientific journals, primarily the Natural and Applied Sciences Bulletin, as he firmly believed that understanding and protecting the Philippines’ rich biological heritage should be primarily the responsibility of Filipinos, and thus his work must be accessible to them.

During his lifetime, Nemenzo was granted fellowships from the Guggenheim memorial Foundation, US national museum (Smithsonian Institution, Washington), and the British Museum of Natural History (London), as well as memberships in numerous local and international learned societies. He isimmortalized in the coral genus Nemenzophyllia (Hodgson & Ross, 1982), which is named in his honor.

To date, Nemenzo’s works remain the most comprehensive record of Philippine corals, and a precious legacy to present and future Filipino scientists.

Guide to the Nemenzo Species

Nemenzo described over 375 species of corals from specimens collected mostly from Mindoro, Palawan, and Cebu. Of these, he proposed that 94 were new species and 5 were new varieties – it is these which we refer to as “Nemenzo species.” Just over 40 of these species are considered valid, while the rest have been synonymized.

Given the extreme diversity of Philippine corals, of which there are an estimated 505 species 1 , and the relatively low circulation and poor print quality of Nemenzo’s original publications, it is worth revisiting this esteemed taxonomist’s identifications for their potential significance in defining Philippine coral diversity.

Nemenzo’s original specimens are scattered in four repositories across the country: the Marine Science Institute and Institute of Biology at the University of the Philippines in Diliman, Quezon City, Silliman University in Dumaguete, and the University of San Carlos in Cebu. This poses a considerable challenge to scientists seeking to validate Nemenzo’s work.

This website provides, for the first time, convenient public access to a large collection of high-quality photos of Nemenzo’s specimens. These are accompanied by Nemenzo’s own original descriptions and the taxonomic source and material for each, along with updated information on the taxonomic status of each Nemenzo species and the current physical location of each specimen.

Sources: DeVantier L, Turak E. 2017. Species Richness and Relative Abundance of Reef-Building Corals in the Indo- West Pacific. Diversity 9(3):25. {note this lists 505 species from the Sulu Sea, more than any single report from the Philippines and its neighbors}

Nemenzo, F. 1986. Guide to the Philippine Flora and Fauna Vol V. Corals. Ministry of Natural Resources and University of the Philippines, Quezon City. 273 pp.

Coral Genera
Type Specimen Location