The long wait is finally over. Four years after it was officially recognized as a nominee, and a couple of months after being included in the provisional list of winners, the Puerto Princesa Underground River (PPUR) in Palawan is now officially one of the world’s New Seven Wonders of Nature. The PPUR shares the honor with Jeju Island in Korea; the Amazon in South America; Halong Bay in Vietnam; Iguazu Falls in Brazil; Komodo in Indonesia; and the Table Mountain in South Africa.
Environment and Natural Resources Secretary Ramon J. P. Paje, national campaign manager for the PPUR’s promotion, said that although the PPUR seemed to be a “David among Goliaths”, there was no doubt about its eventual victory.
“We knew Filipinos could make things possible once we unite for a common cause, and true enough, Filipinos from around the world voted both online and through text for PPUR,” Paje said.
Yet more than the votes, Paje stressed that the 8.2 kilometer underground river deserves to be called a “true wonder of nature” because of its unique natural and geological features that never cease to amaze not only tourists, both local and foreign, but also scientists and experts.
Diverse and unique discoveries
By now many are familiar with the iconic PPUR images of boats, carrying passengers in life jackets and hard hats, leisurely gliding along the river’s jade-green waters and into the cavernous entrance punctuated by stalactites and the occasional bat or swallow flying overhead.
Yet many do not know that the river is part of an entire mountain-to-sea ecosystem called the Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park. It is considered home and habitat to eight types of forests; inland wetlands like rivers and fresh swamp; karst ecosystem; and coastal wetlands like tidal flats and seagrass beds.
The Italian La Venta Geographical Association, which conducted a number of explorations of PPUR, described the site as “one of the most relevant and still promising speleological areas of the Philippines,” even exciting not only Filipinos but the world of their discoveries about the river:
- The PPUR represents one of the largest and most important underground estuaries in the world. Its 8.2 kilometer navigable underground river winds through a cave and flows out directly into the West Philippine Sea. The tides from the sea push their influence to as far as six kilometers into the cave, making it “a site of huge mixing phenomenon between fresh river and salt sea water… The system may reasonably be considered the world’s most classical example of an underground estuary.”
- It hosts one of the most complex cave systems. It consists of a large main gallery through which the river flows, and which branches out into several inlets and small tributaries. Though it is a well explored cave, many minor branches have yet to be investigated.• The PPUR is naturally sustainable. It has the natural capacity to offset the effects of high-impact tourism because of its high amount of energy resulting from its unique location, marine climate, and combination of wind, humidity and strong variable air fluxes.
- It contains scientifically and aesthetically unique formations from secondary mineral deposits not found elsewhere.
- While only a few caves in the world host more than three to four minerals, the PPUR alone hosts at least 11 cave minerals, three of which can be considered new. The new minerals are serrabrancaite, robertsite and janggunite, while the other eight are calcite, gypsum, apatite, variscite, strengite, manganite, rodocrosite, and pirolusite.
- Cave formations and the relationship of tides with the speed of fresh water flow within the PPUR allow scientists to conduct studies in understanding the Earth’s evolution.
Tourism: boon or bane?Puerto Princesa City has been enjoying a tourism boom largely attributed to the growing popularity of the PPUR. Tourist arrivals have increased to 250,000 in 2011, up by 35 per cent compared to 2010. With the increased number of flights from two to 13, including bi-weekly direct flights from Korea, a new international airport is already being constructed. The city government has also issued more than 200 permits for additional lodging establishments and other tourism-related businesses.
- The fossilized remains of a sea cow or Sirenia, estimated to be at least 20 million years old, have also been found embedded in perfect condition in the cave’s walls. It is the first to be found in the country and in this part of the world.
True to form as an environmental champion, Mayor Edward Hagedorn, who was commended for his valuable contribution and leadership in steering the PPUR to victory, has, however, expressed concern over the tourism boom. Noting the possible adverse impact of human activities on the environment, he has sought the assistance of the DENR and other experts in determining the “carrying capacity” of the PPUR.
“We have already increased our self-imposed limit from 500 to 700 visitors a day in the area, but we are now receiving 1,300 persons daily,” he reported, albeit with mixed pride and concern. The study, he said, would thus give them sound basis on determining the maximum number of visitors to accept at the site without causing irreversible damage to the ecosystems.Wetland of international importance
The declaration of the PPUR as one of the New Seven Wonders of Nature is but a feather in its cap. Already, the United Nations Educational, Cultural and Scientific Organization (UNESCO) considers it as a world heritage site, and thus, of outstanding value to humanity.So, what else lies in store for the PPUR?
Sec. Paje said that the DENR is set to nominate the PPUR as Ramsar site to the Convention on Wetlands of International Importance, otherwise known as the Ramsar Convention, an international treaty that seeks to conserve and sustainably utilize wetlands and protect them from progressive encroachment. The nomination was a result of the recommendation of the city government through Resolution No. 427-2011, and will be defended by the DENR in a ministerial meeting in Romania in July 2012.
“Once approved, the PPUR will form part of an international network of wetland sites that will be on the global radar for sustainable management. This will be an important contribution to the city government, which needs assistance in coping with the deluge of visitors that it is currently facing,” explained the secretary.
Sources include http://www.laventa.it, Wikipedia