As an archipelago of over 7,000 islands, the Philippines championed the archipelagic principle, an important concept that unites land, water, and people into a single legal entity, in the United Nations on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). The eventual recognition and incorporation of the principle in the UNCLOS is a milestone in advancing the Philippine’s vital interest as an archipelagic state, and asserting its identity and territory as indelibly imprinted in its Constitution. 

This exhibit showcases the Philippines’ unique identity as an archipelago, as well as its maritime heritage, and its longstanding commitment to international law and the rule of law in the maritime domain as an archipelagic state under UNCLOS. It highlights the significance of the archipelagic state as a legal framework for the sustainable management of the Philippines’ vast maritime resources. 





Photo by: Jacob Maentz

The archipelago is in the Philippine imaginary: creation myths contemplate a world where there was no land but only the sea and the sky. Once upon a time, an exhausted bird which had nowhere to land, stirred up the sea which threw its waters into the sky. In response, the sky showered upon it many islands until it could no longer rise. Hence, a sea ‘studded with islands’ was formed. 

The strong connection to the sea, from ancient tales on how the world began, to rituals from birth to death and other practices can be observed all over the more than 7,000 islands that make up the archipelago. 

Being an archipelago not only defines the Philippines' geography, but it has also shaped and continues to shape the way of life of over a hundred million Filipinos who draw life from the seas, from food to means of livelihood. 

This archipelagic consciousness and identity have steered the Philippines in pushing for the archipelagic doctrine and, along with other archipelagic states, advancing the concept that a group of islands, interconnecting waters, and other natural features are so closely interrelated that they form an intrinsic geographical, economic, and political entity. 

Archipelagic consciousness recognizes and celebrates diversity and interdependence of the different islands and regions. It is a concept that emphasizes the interconnectedness of communities amidst the Philippine archipelago's geographic, historic, and cultural diversity, and how this dynamic shapes the national identity and psyche of Filipinos. 

There are numerous practices and beliefs shared by coastal communities centered around the sea and its resources. There is a common heritage of seafaring and a natural bond with the ocean and over time, many communities have developed unique cultural practices and skills that enable them to thrive. 

Coastal communities practice traditional fishing methods using handmade boats and spears. Many practice artisanal fisheries over extended periods and across generations, with many deploying small-scale and sustainable fishing methods. 

The Sama-Bajau are an indigenous ethnic group inhabiting the coastal areas of the Philippines. Their communities are often composed of stilt houses or boathouses, allowing them to live directly above the water. 

The Cyunonon tribe in Palawan has a tradition of pearl diving and seaweed farming, which has been passed down from generation to generation. 




Photo by: Jacob Maentz




Photo by: Jacob Maentz

The archipelago is located in the Coral Triangle, an area recognized as the global center for marine biodiversity. The coastline of the Philippines is home to a diverse range of marine habitats, including coral reefs, seagrass beds, and mangroves, which support a rich array of marine life. 

The coral reefs are a fragile and vitally important part of the marine ecosystem, as fundamental ecological building blocks. In the surrounding seas, there is dynamic interaction between the abundant fisheries and extensive coral reef ecosystems, which are among the most biodiverse in the world. 

Across the archipelago, there is connectivity between the different ecosystems due to ocean currents and the life cycles of marine species. As part of this ecosystem, generations of fisherfolks are attuned to this ebb and flow of the seas and the flux of marine life, aware that the impact of any environmental harm may not be limited to the immediate area, but can affect the health and viability of ecosystems elsewhere. 

People are becoming more cognizant of their role as stewards of the ocean, and their common duty to preserve and protect the environment. Sustainable practices such as coral reef conservation, mangrove restoration, and sustainable fishing will help build ecological resilience and maintain a sense of security for the coastal communities. 



Coron, Palawan

Photo by: Jacob Maentz

As an archipelagic state, the Philippines fate is tied to the world’s ocean and seas, just as its economy is tied to the global fisheries sector, the global value chain in shipbuilding, and global seafaring and maritime labor. 

The ocean is under serious threat and coastal communities all over the world face common challenges. Anthropogenic pressures – climate change and sea-level rise, unsustainable fishing, pollution, noise, and coastal development have an impact on the marine environment. 

To preserve ecological balance in the ocean and to fulfill our collective role as its steward, it is imperative to recognize the obligation to protect the marine environment from future damage and preserving and improving its present condition and to recognize the duty to cooperate. 

The Philippines continues to take active measures to protect and preserve the environment, addressing drivers that exert pressures on the ocean and seas. 

Within the context of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, the Philippines cooperates on a global and regional basis, for the protection and preservation of the marine environment, and to promote the sustainable use of the ocean for future generations. 

About the artist


is an American documentary photographer whose work explores the interplay of the natural world, culture, and identity. For more than a decade, he has been working on a long-term project chronicling indigenous diversity and changing indigenous cultures within the Philippines. His work draws on both the vast distinctiveness of indigenous communities and on the many parallels between their worldviews and his – one of interconnectedness, holistic knowledge, relationships, and a strong connection with the land. 

Jacob is a project photographer with Blue Earth Alliance, a community of professionals that supports visual storytelling on critical environmental and social issues. He has a background in conservation biology.

Discover the how the 

Philippines championed 

the archipelagic doctrine 

The Archipelagic Doctrine, an online exhibit of the DFA-Maritime and Ocean Affairs Office