The Decade’s Greatest Discoveries in the Philippines

Some discoveries in the Philippines are so compelling they overturn well-established theories in science.

This decade, the Philippines shocked the world with some of the greatest discoveries ever made, some of which are so compelling that they overturn some of the most well-established theories conerning humans. While there are hundreds of discoveries made this decade, we selected some of the best discoveries in the Philippines.

May 2014: Metal-Eating Plant

In 2014, one of the weirdest and possibly most useful plants in the world was discovered in the Philippines: the metal-eating plant. Known as Rinorea niccolifera, the plant can absorb nickel without being poisoned. The plant’s ultra-rare ability to eat toxic nickel and other minerals could be used in cleaning up polluted soil, especially in areas where nickel is mined.

A radical new approach to mining could also be possible with the metal-eating plant. It could be possible to just harvest the plants instead of digging the earth to extract minerals. Sadly, the metal-eating plant is facing the threat of extinction.


August 2016: The World’s Largest Pearl

The world’s largest pearl, unofficially named as the Pearl of Puerto Princesa, was discovered in 2016 in Palawan. It was kept by a local fisherman under his bed for 10 years as a good luck charm, not knowing it was actually a pearl. For fear of attracting poachers and illegal fishers, the exact location of where the pearl was found is kept a secret, too. Weighing 34 kilograms, the pearl is estimated to be worth $130 million. 

The previous record-holder was the Pearl of Lao Tzu, a 6.4-kilogram find, which was also discovered in the Philippines. In June 2019, another giant pearl from the Philippines made headlines around the world. Filipino-Canadian Abraham Reyes revealed that he owns Giga Pearl, which he claims his grandfather bought from a Filipino fisherman in 1959. The Giga Pearl 27.65 kilograms and is estimated to be worth $90 million.

April 2017: Giant Shipworm

Photo by Wikimedia Commons.
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Dubbed as the Loch Ness Monster of mollusks and also the oceanic unicorn, the giant shipworm was already known in the province of Sultan Kudarat, Mindanao, where locals had been eating it as a delicacy even before it was discovered by scientists in 2017. What they didn’t know is that it is a famed species that has eluded science for more than 300 years. It was first recorded in the 18th century.

Contrary to what its name suggests, the shipworm is not actually a worm but a mollusk, like the famed tamilok of Palawan. Shipworms eat wood, and are suspected of helping the British defeat the Spanish Armada in 1588. The Spanish Armada had been moored in the shipworm-infested harbors for months, suffering much damage in the form of holes carved out by shipworms.

Unlike its smaller cousins, the giant shipworm does not feed on wood or ships, but on organic nutrients found in mud in shallow bays.

May 2018: The Butchered Rhino

Photo by Darwgon0801 | Wikimedia Commons.


If Homo luzonensis had scientists arguing about the migration theory or how prehistoric humans came out of Africa and spread through Asia, the Butchered Rhino flipped the entire table and smacked scientists in the head, as if to say, “Forget everything you know.”

This is probably one of the biggest and most important discoveries in the Philippines because it totally overturns everything we know about the history of peopling in Asia. The Butchered Rhino is indirect evidence of human presence in the Philippines 709,000 years ago, a time when there wasn't supposed to be any people in the archipelago. Before its discovery, the majority of scientists were all in agreement that the first humans in the Philippines arrived 67,000 years ago.

April 2019: Homo luzonensis

Photo by Luzonensis | Wikimedia Commons.

In April 2019, scientists discovered modern man’s long-lost cousin, the Homo luzonensis, in the Philippines. Homo luzonensis was discovered by a team of international archaeologists, one of whom is Armand Mijares of the University of the Philippines. Mijares is the coauthor of the study and project leader of the team. The discovery is huge because it overturns our decades-old understanding of how Asia was peopled by ancient humans who traveled from Africa. Homo luzonensis is dated as at least 50,000 to 67,000 years old.

Homo luzonensis belongs to an extinct line of hominins that are separate from Homo sapiens. Very interesting to note is that it lived in the same period as other hominins: Homo sapiens, Homo floresiensis, Neanderthals, and Denisovans. Out of the five, only our species survived.

October 2019: Largest Caldera in the World

Jenny Anne Barretto—who is a Filipina marine geophysicist based in New Zealand—Ray Wood, and John Milsom made one of the greatest discoveries in the Philippines when they found earth’s largest caldera in the Philippine Sea. They named the caldera Apolaki, the god of the sun and war in Philippine mythology. A caldera is a type of volcanic crater formed when a volcano collapses on itself after erupting.


November 2019: Deepest Shipwreck in the World

Photo by Wikimedia Commons.

The deepest shipwreck in the world was found in November 2019, lying six kilometers below sea level on the edge of Emden Deep, one of the deepest points in the Philippine Sea.

The research group Vulcan Inc., which found the shipwreck, believes that it is the USS Johnston. The warship was sunk during the famous Battle of Leyte Gulf in October 1944. The largest naval battle in World War II saw the decimation of the Japanese fleet.

Fletcher destroyers, a class of warships produced by the U.S. Navy in World War II, have also seen service during the Vietnam War and the Korean War. The ships were one of the most successful classes of destroyers ever built by the United States.

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Mario Alvaro Limos
Features Editor-at-Large
Mario Alvaro Limos is features editor-at-large at Esquire Philippines, and heads the Lifestyle and Esports content of as its section editor. Email him at [email protected] and [email protected]
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