The government of Philippines has chosen as its fifth Wetland of International Importance the extremely interesting Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park (22,202 hectares, 10º10’00”N 118º55’00”E), which is already a UNESCO World Heritage Site and MAB Biosphere Reserve. As summarized by Ramsar’s Nessrine Alzahlawi, based on the Ramsar Information Sheet, the site, located on the island of Palawan, is unique in the biogeographic region because it connects a range of important ecosystems from the mountain-to-the-sea, including a limestone karst landscape with a complex cave system, mangrove forests, lowland evergreen tropical rainforests, and freshwater swamps.
It is home to about 800 plant and 233 animal species, including the critically endangered Philippine cockatoo (Cacatua haematuropygia) and Hawksbill turtle (Eretmochelys imbricate), as well as the endangered Green sea turtle (Chelonia mydas) and Nordmann’s greenshank (Tringa guttifer). There are also some 15 endemic species of birds such as the Palawan peacock pheasant (Polyplectron emphanum) and the Tabon scrub fowl (Megapodius freycinet cumingii).
One of the unique features of the park is an 8.2 km long section of the Cabayugan River that flows underground within large formations of stalactites and stalagmites. The river provides water to local communities for domestic and agricultural uses, before flowing towards the underground river. The site is a major ecotourism destination, and community-based sustainable ecotourism has been initiated to involve the local communities in Park management as well as to generate income.
Photo credit: Puerto Princesa Undergroundriver / La Venta Group.