Organized Panel Session
At a meeting of the Pacific Science Congress in Manila in 1953, Jose Sison Domantay (1897-1976), head of the Biological Research Laboratory, a pre-war institution housed within the Philippine Bureau of Fisheries, conveyed a sense of regionalism that was rooted in marine ecology rather than political life. Bound by coral reefs and shallow waters, Domantay had mapped an ecological zone borne from below. Stretching from the eastern edge of the Indian Ocean to the “west and southwest Pacific,” he called this region “the East Indian area,” explaining how its spatial coherence was based on notions of aquatic diversity. In particular, Domantay had determined through science, travel, and exchange that this zone was “a hotbed of echinoderms,” rich with sea cucumbers, sea stars, and sea urchins. And while his production of regional space complicated the ideological landscape of the Cold War, it also centered the place of Philippine waters within the rising tide of ‘area studies.’ For Domantay, and other experts like him, the study of marine life was a critical way to know the Philippines through the interplay of science and ocean, and to frame the country’s marine environment within a wider ‘East Indian’ context. By tracing the development of Domantay’s sense of regionalism from below, this paper argues that the rich fauna of Philippine waters was not only central to bounding and building up Southeast Asia as “a hotbed of echinoderms,” but also, and more importantly, pivotal to laying the groundwork for knowing and valuing today’s Coral Triangle.