The oceans nourish and connect life on our planet. Human life would not be possible without the oceans regulating the earth's temperature, driving the weather and delivering most of the oxygen and water on which we depend. Palawan Seas is a photographic project exploring humankind’s connection to the ocean. The images document life in Palawan - an archipelago of 1,700 islands in the western Philippines. Palawan is among the most biodiverse environments on earth and a place where an intricate understanding of marine ecosystems has passed through generations for thousands of years.


Human fossils discovered in Palawan suggest it was home to some of the first islanders in Southeast Asia. A Neolithic burial jar depicts two people paddling into the afterlife on a small boat. Palawan is remote and for centuries was largely isolated from the rest of the world; people here depended on the plentiful reefs and tropical forests for all their needs. This led to a relationship with nature which defined every aspect of their lives - from the practical to the spiritual.

Located within the Coral Triangle, Palawan is home to roughly 50% of the world’s coral species and its reefs are among the most abundant on our planet. After the Second World War a boom in fisheries brought Palawan to the attention of the fishing industry as a rich, untouched source. Steadily the islands’ population swelled with migrant fisherfolk and by the 1970s almost two thirds of Philippine fish catch originated in Palawan.

The population of Palawan is now almost ten times what it was 50 years ago and with this has come much change. Many people still live their everyday lives according to the winds, tides and lunar cycles but circumstances are now different. A recent assessment showed that few of Palawan’s coral reefs remain in pristine condition. Anthropogenic factors such as rising sea temperatures, over-fishing and nutrient pollution are taking a high toll on marine ecosystems.

Coral reefs, which support roughly a quarter of all marine species, are among the most vulnerable ecosystems to global climate change. Marine Protected Areas such as Tubbataha Reefs and Boayan Island are vibrant examples of how Palawan's reefs can recover from over-fishing, however, with sea temperatures rising it is uncertain how long this revival can continue.

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