Visayan Islands (vĭsĪˈən) [key], large island group (1990 pop. 13,794,991), c.24,000 sq mi (62,160 sq km), in and around the Visayan Sea, central Philippines. The group includes Bohol, Cebu, Leyte, Masbate, Negros, Panay, Samar, and hundreds of smaller islands. Samar and Leyte, on the east, act as buffers, protecting the other islands from storms and giving them a mild, Mediterranean-type climate that permits intensive cultivation. The coastal plains of Samar and Leyte are densely populated. Cebu, Negros, and Panay are the commercial heart of the Visayan Islands. Cebu city is one of the region's trade, transportation, industrial, and cultural centers.