Guarding the Gates of the Pacific
Guarding the Gates of the Pacific
For travelers of old, the Philippines were the islands that guarded the gate to the Pacific. Beyond them were mermaids, sea gods, and an unfathomably large expanse of water all the way to the Americas. They were thought by many to be Ophir, the biblical El Dorado; every three years, King Solomon received gold, silver, sandalwood, and pearls from Ophir.
Much has happened since those days, but the islands’ mythical allure has not disappeared. Golden shorelines fringing forested mountains, subterraneous rivers and coves, lagoons, lakes, and seas in all shades of blue have replaced mermaids and blustering sea gods.
The waters here are so rich, that they could feed all of Asia. The Philippines share with Indonesia the most fertile part of Coral Triangle: the heart at the heart of the world’s marine riches.
The islands are also rich in gold, copper, and coconut oil, and a major exporter for electronic products and medical equipment.
Philippines: Facts and Figures
  • The Philippines are the world’s second-largest archipelago after Indonesia, with more than 7,000 islands. Only one third of the islands have formal names.
  • The Philippines have the third-largest area of coral reef in the world (25,060 km2) after Indonesia and Australia. Papua New Guinea, another Coral Triangle country, is also in the top 5 countries with most coral reef.
  • Apo Reef off the coast of Mindoro Island, a proposed World Heritage site, is the second-largest contiguous coral reef in the world after Australia’s Great Barrier Reef.
  • The Philippines is the third-largest English-speaking nation in the world.
  • Typhoon Haiyan, or Super Typhoon Yolanda (2013), had the highest wind speed of recorded typhoons. It was also the deadliest typhoon ever recorded in the Philippines; killing more than 6,000 people and causing damages estimated at $2.02 billion USD.
  • The Puerto Princesa or Cabayugan River in Palawan is the longest navigable underground river in the world, and one of the New 7 Wonders of Nature. The river runs through St. Pauls Cave for 24 kilometers before flowing into the West Philippine Sea.
  • Vulcan point, a tiny rocky outcrop in the crater lake on Volcano island, is one of the world’s few ‘Chinese box’ islands: it is an island in a lake (Crater lake) on an island (Taal Vulcano) in a lake (Lake Taal) on an island (Luzon island).
  • Camiguin, the ‘island born of fire’, is the island with the most volcanoes in the world.
  • The world’s largest pearl comes from Palawan. It is 24 centimeters in diameter and weighs 6.4 kilograms. The pearl is in a private collection and has been valued at $42 million (1982) to $93 million (2009) USD.
  • The Galathea Depth in the Mindanao, or Philippine Trench, is the third-deepest point in the world’s oceans.
  • With an estimated 102 million people, the Philippines are the 7th most populous country in Asia and 12th in the world. 12 million Filipinos live overseas, meaning that the country also has one of the world’s largest diaspora’s.
  • More than 150 ethnic groups live in the Philippines, speaking an equally large number of languages. Many of these languages are endangered, with fewer than 1,000 speakers.
Economy and Environment
  • In the 2010s, the Philippines have emerged as one of the world’s fastest-growing economies. In 2014, it was the second only to China for the region, and in 2015 it registered the third-highest growth in Asia behind China and Vietnam.
  • The Philippines are part of the ‘Next 11’, the 11 economies that have the potential to become the world’s strongest economies in the 21st century. It is projected to become the 16th largest economy by 2050.
  • In 2012, about 18.4 million people, or 19.2% of the total population, lived below the international poverty line of 1.25$/ day. Most of the people who live in poverty are in rural areas and work mainly as farmers and fishermen. The number of people affected by poverty increased in 2014, in part due to the devastation wrought by Typhoon Haiyan.
  • The Philippines are in the top ten aquaculture countries in the world.
  • The Philippines are one of the top five ship exporting countries in the world.
  • There is a triangle at the heart of the Coral Triangle, encompassing the Philippines and central and eastern Indonesia, where the number of species found outstrips the entire Caribbean.
  • More than 500 species of coral and 2,000 species of fish live in the waters of the Philippine islands.
  • 10% of the world’s Marine Protected Areas – more than 500 – are in the Philippines. Of these, less than 200 have been assessed as ‘effectively managed’ however.
  • Marine protection has a long history in the Philippines: tribal customs dating back hundreds of years prescribed marine resource use. As early as the 1870s, collection areas for milkfish were regulated. The Hundred Island National Park on the coast of Luzon Island is considered to be the first Marine Park in southeast Asia.
  • Donsol, at the south of Luzon Island, is the most significant whale shark interaction site in the world. Whale sharks are the world’s biggest fish; they are considered vulnerable and are protected in the Philippines. The whale shark is featured on the Philippine 100 peso bill.
  • At 1.5 cm length and under 10 mg in weight, the Dwarf pygmy goby, or the Philippine goby, is one of the world’s smallest and lightest fish. It is threatened by extinction due to habitat pollution and destruction.
History and Culture
  • The oldest confirmed human remains in the Philippines come from the Tabon Cave in Palawan. The fossil is a tibia dating back 47,000 years.
  • Callao man, another possible human fossil, is about 67,000 years old. If the metatarsal found in the cave is confirmed to come from an anatomically modern human, it will be one of the oldest human remains discovered west of the Wallace Line.
  • Milkfish aquaculture in the Philippines is 800 years old, and spread from here to Indonesia, Taiwan, and the Pacific.
  • Magellan died on Mactan Island in the Philippines, during the first circumnavigation of the world. Magellan and his crew were the first Europeans to reach the Philippines.
  • The first movable type book in the Philippines was a Tagalog dictionary printed in 1611 – almost 30 years before the first book printed in the United States.
  • The oldest university in Asia is the Pontifical and Royal University of Santo Tomas. It was founded in 1609; in April 1611, the foundation act was signed. The first courses offered by the Colegio de Santo Tomás were canon law, theology, philosophy, logic, grammar, the arts, and civil law. In 1871, it began offering degrees in Medicine and Pharmacy, the first in colonized Asia. It is also the largest Catholic university in the world on one campus.
  • There are 6 World Heritage sites in the Philippines; two of these are marine sites. Another 5 marine sites are on the tentative World Heritage list, out of a total of 19 sites.
Unfortunately, despite their beauty and their promise, the destruction of natural resources is taking place at an alarming rate, and is the biggest threat to the country’s future. Together with Indonesia, the Philippines hosts the largest number of threatened coral reefs, with 95% considered under threat. More than 50% of Philippines reefs are classified as ‘overfished’, and with fish populations reducing, fishermens livelihoods are in peril, with incomes of fishers across the country being generally below the official poverty threshold. And the situation continues to worsen – with population growth and migration to coastal towns placing increased threats on the marine and coastal environment. 78 percent of Philippine provinces and 56 percent of its cities and municipalities are located along the country’s coastline. From these areas, around 2.2 million tons of organic pollutants are estimated to enter the marine environment annually.
What can you do?
Help us put a stop to the destruction of The Philippines marine heritage!
Coral Triangle Center