Palawan Seas is a photographic project about our human connection to the sea. It is located in Palawan, the Philippines, a remote archipelago where the mystery of our relationship with the sea seems to be partially revealed. 

The ocean covers seventy percent of our planet’s surface; it controls the climate, weather and produces half of the oxygen we breathe. Throughout history mankind has relied on the sea for its seemingly infinite resources. But the steep decline of marine ecosystems is a sign that the relationship is unraveling. 

Palawan is located within the Coral Triangle and its reefs are among the most ecologically diverse on our planet. It also harbors an ancient culture; Palaweños are descended from some of the first islanders ever to settle in Southeast Asia. In a jungle-clad cave near the town of Quezon a Neolithic Burial jar was found depicting two people paddling into the afterlife on a small boat. 

Until around seventy years ago Palawan had little contact with the outside world and the people who lived here depended entirely on the islands’ reefs and thick forests for all their needs. An intimacy with nature developed that defined every aspect of their lives from the practical to the spiritual. A deep knowledge of the marine world was passed from one generation to the next. 

In the 1950s a boom in Philippine fisheries suddenly brought Palawan to the attention of the fishing industry. It was a rich, virtually untouched source and the islands’ population soon swelled with migrant fisherfolk. By the 1970s almost two thirds of the country’s fish catch was from here. 

In 1990 Palawan became a Unesco Biosphere Reserve and a special system of government was introduced to ensure that human development would not disrupt the natural world. The reality of this has been a struggle between conservationists and those wanting to commercially exploit natural resources.Illegal fishing has taken its toll and Palawan waters are no longer as rich as they once were. Through marine reserves and coral gardens we are restoring the underwater environment but climate change and coral bleaching mean the future is uncertain. 

Palawan is a place where we can glimpse ourselves not as outsiders but as participants in complex ecosystems, a delicate balance which has been borne by generations to the present day. 

Using Format