The Sulu Sea, located between Borneo and the Philippines, is separated from the surrounding ocean by two chains of islands. There are no passages below 500 m depth and the basin, which at the deepest is 5,000m, is filled with warm low oxygen water.The near surface chlorophyll concentration has been examined with the aid of ocean colour sensors on board satellites. Direct comparisons between a field observation of chlorophyll and its remotely sensed values from OCTS (Ocean Colour Temperature Scanner) are found to be in satisfactory agreement. An 8-month time series of chlorophyll near the centre of the Sulu Sea has been used to show that the chlorophyll level is significantly higher than the level in the adjacent South China Sea. This was most pronounced at the period of change between the monsoons. The greater primary productivity may provide the explanation for the higher deposition rate of carbon in the Sulu Sea.Although the Sulu Sea is more productive than the adjacent South China Sea, the central area can still be classified as a desert. Estimates of the new primary production in the central Sulu Sea seem to be just sufficient to support the current fishery.