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Puerto Princesa Subterranean National Park

  • The Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park in Palawan Province of The Philippines features spectacular limestone karst landscape country and an underground river which is accessible by boat for tourism.
  • Puerto Princesa National Park is best described by the UNESCO submissions for its listing as a World Heritage Site, which says, '' One of the distinguishing features is that it emerges directly into the sea with its lower portion thereby subject to tidal influences. The area has significant habitat for biodiversity conservation and contains the full ‘’mountain to sea ‘’ ecosystem with some of the most important forests in Asia.
  • The focus of the area is a spectacular karst landscape containing an 8.2 km long subterranean river, one of the most unique of its type in the world. The underground river includes many speleotherms, and several large chambers exist, up to 120 meters in width and 60 meters in height. The limestone mountain has extensive Karst features, both surface karst ( pinnacles, shafts, dolines and limestone cliffs ), as well as an extensive underground river system. A distinguishing feature of the river is the fact that it emerges directly into the sea, and that the lower portion of the river is brackish and subject to tidal influences. The underground river ( the Cabayugan River ) arises approximately 2 km southwest of Mount Saint Paul at an altitude of 100 meters, and flows underground for almost its entire length to an outflow into St. Paul’s Bay. All rivers and associated tributaries are within the Puerto Princesa National Park, which is important in relation to catchment impacts on the water quality of the Cabayugan River. Three forest formations are present, lowland, karst and limestone. Approximately two-thirds of the Puerto Princesa National Park is forested, dominated by hardwood species. The karst forest is restricted to small pockets where soils have developed. In the coastal area, mangroves, mossy forest, sea grass beds and coral  reefs are also found. There is significance of forest biodiversity within the Puerto Princesa National Park. The Alugan Bay component of Puerto Princesa National Park is noted for having national significance for its mangrove forest. The faunal diversity in the Puerto Princesa National Park is moderate, especially with respect to invertebrates. Endemic mammals include the Palawan tree shrew, Palawan porcupine and Palawan stink badger. Dugong have been recorded in the marine component of the park. Monitor lizard and marine turtles are also present. The Palawan Peacock Pheasant has also been recorded in the Puerto Princesa National Park ( recognized as an internationally threatened species ). The subterranean fauna has not been studied in detail, but comprises fish, prawns, snakes and insects. The tunnel and chambers of the subterranean river are home to abundant populations of swiftlets and bats. Eight species of bats are also found in the cave, and cave swiftlets nest on some of the underground boulder piles. Further studies are required to determine the extent and diversity of the underground fauna.
  • St. Paul Underground River has similar geo-morphological qualities as some other limestone areas in South and Southeast Asia, notably Gunung Mulu National Park in Sarawak, Phong Nha Nature Reserve and Ha Long Bay in Vietnam, Lorentz National Park in Irian Jaya and Gomantong in East Malaysia. The vast majority of existing World Heritage karst sites are in temperate regions. Within the tropical karst region the following comparisons can be made. Ha Long Bay in northern Vietnam contains significant karst topography and caves, in a spectacular coastal setting. This site was not nominated on the basis of these values but the potential World Heritage significance of karst values within the site has recently been reviewed. The caves in Ha Long Bay are mostly small in comparison to the St. Paul Subterranean River, but they do have ancillary value as they provide key evidence of changing sea levels on the Sunda Shelf. In Thailand, the Thungyai Huai Kha Khaeng Wildlife Sanctuaries contains significant areas of lowland riverine forest and other forest types more typical of strongly seasonal tropical climates. This property includes low-relief limestone terrain with some caves, and karst wetlands. The major feature of the nominated area is the 8 km underground river. There are many underground rivers in other karst regions around the world. For example, the Clearwater Cave and the 37 km Melinan River in Sarawak’s Gunung Mulu National Park have arguably more significant underground rivers. Within the Philippines a 9km river cave exists at Callao on Luzon. The underground river in St. Paul is not as dramatic as similar features found in existing World Heritage sites in Slovenia’s Skocjanske Jama, Kentucky’s Mammoth Cave or the Canadian Rockies Castleguard and Maligne River Caves.
  • One feature that distinguishes St. Paul, however, is that the underground river flows directly into the sea amidst a tropical coastal setting. The underground river flowing into the sea, and the associated tidal influence, makes this an outstanding feature. One reviewer also noted that St. Paul warrants special consideration simply because it is one of the few such rivers which the general public can easily experience and appreciate.
  • There is one other World Heritage site in the Palawan Bio-geographic Province, the Tubbataha Reef Marine Park. However, this protects different values from those identified for St. Paul. Palawan is an important bio-geographic province, with a rich biota drawn from both Malaysian and Pacific sources. Palawan is distinct from the rest of the Philippine archipelago as it lies on the Sunda Shelf and has derived most of its fauna from Borneo during recent geological times.
  • The biodiversity within this site is considered significant. The Palawan Moist Forest, which is represented within Puerto Princesa National Park, is noted in WWF’s Global 200 report as having the richest tree flora of Asia, with high levels of regional and local endemism. The Palawan Moist Forest also has the largest and richest examples of limestone forests in Asia. The St. Paul National Park is also noted, in a recent global overview of forested protected areas on the World Heritage List, as a forested protected area which may merit consideration for World Heritage nominationz
The conservation significance of this forest at the In conclusion, Puerto Princesa National Park has a number of features that combine to distinguish it from other areas.

These include:
  1. The underground river flowing directly into the sea amidst a tropical forest setting, with its associated tidal influence;
  2. The forests within the nomination which are amongst the most significant in Asia, being representative of Palawan Moist Forest, and which have been identified in a number of expert reviews as having World Heritage potential; and
  3. The fact that this is the most important site for conservation in the Palawan Bio-geographic  Province.
  • The coverage of a complete “ mountains to the sea ecosystem ”, within the nomination international level is heightened when considered in the context of the high levels of past and current  deforestation in the Philippines and in the region. For example, the Environmental Legal Assistance Center of Puerto Princesa notes that: “ in 1903, there were more than 21 million hectares of  forest in the Philippines, or more than half of the country’s total area. Today, less than 6 million  hectares of forest are left. In 1994, there were only 800,000 hectares of old growth forest left ”. Palawan has, in fact, been described as “ the last best hope ” for forest conservation in the Philippines.
  •  St. Paul Cave was known to local people since ancient times, in their thoughts it was inhabited by a spirit that prevented them from entering the cave. The park’s territory and surroundings are the ancestral lands of the Batak and Tagbanua communities. The needs of the local communities are being considered through the preparation of the previously mentioned management guidelines.
Ulugan Bay
  • This area is located within Puerto Princesa National Park area, and it comprises mangrove forests in various conservation states. It has been estimated that 15% of the mangroves in the Philippines are in Ulugan Bay. Possible threats to Ulugan Bay from a proposal to establish a Naval base are a worry. ''