Environment and Natural Resources Secretary Ramon J. P. Paje today appealed for Filipinos’ support for the Puerto Princesa Underground River (PPUR) in Palawan as the New Seven Wonders of Nature contest approaches the final stretch of voting before the declaration of winners on November 11.

This, even as Paje announced the discovery of a new mineral found in the cave, which according to him, added another reason for the PPUR to be considered as “a true wonder of nature.”

The discovery of the new mineral, called serrabrancaite, was confirmed by renowned crystallographer Dr. Paolo Forti, a member of the Italian La Venta Geographical Association. La Venta has been conducting expeditions at the PPUR.

Likening a victory of the PPUR to “David winning over Goliath” in reference to other contest nominees such as the Great Barrier Reef of Australia, the Grand Canyon of the USA, and the Amazon River of South America, Paje said that regardless of the PPUR’s chances, “Filipinos worldwide should be united irrespective of geography, religion or political affiliation to show the world the beauty of the PPUR and the whole Philippines as well.”

Serrabrancaite, a “completely new cave mineral”, according to Forti, was extracted from an inlet of the PPUR. He also said it has never been found before in caves, although it has been previously found only in Serra Branca, Brazil. Its formation, according to scientists, is mostly induced by the mineralization of bat or seabird droppings known as guano.

“Cave experts themselves are amazed because only few caves in the world host more than three to four minerals, yet in the PPUR alone, they have unearthed at least 11, of which three are new cave minerals,” Paje noted. The other two new minerals were robertsite and janggunite, while the eight previously known cave minerals include calcite, gypsum, apatite, variscite, strengite, manganite, rodocrosite, and pirolusite.

The DENR chief, who is also the national campaign manager for the public sector, added that this brings to seven the number of reasons why the PPUR deserves to be one of the seven wonders of nature based on the La Venta discoveries alone.

The PPUR represents one of the largest and most important underground estuaries in the world; hosts one of the most complex cave systems; has the natural capacity to offset the effects of high-impact tourism; contains unique formations from secondary mineral deposits not found elsewhere; hosts cave formations that allow scientists to conduct studies in understanding the Earth’s evolution.

The 20 million year-old fossilized remains of a sea cow or sirenia have also been found embedded in perfect condition in the cave’s walls.

Paje also revealed that online voting for the PPUR has slowed down as indicated in the contest website, while SMS voting has dramatically spiked. He attributed this to the “one vote per email address” policy of the website, while SMS voters are allowed to vote as often as they want.

He enjoined Filipinos worldwide to encourage their relatives and friends to cast their votes as early as possible to avoid the “phenomenal” increase in online traffic the organizers are expecting before voting ends at 11:11 am on 11/11/11.

Organizers had stated that servers and systems had been upgraded to deal with the expected surge in online and SMS voting, given people’s penchant for doing things at the last minute. However, “extreme peaks of traffic could still disrupt these contingency plans” and could not guarantee successful voting before the declaration.

Online voting is on-going through the website www.new7wonders.com, while SMS voters need only send the word “PPUR” to 2861 for all local networks.

Meanwhile, the private sector has also initiated an on-going local SMS promo to drum up awareness and support for the PPUR’s nomination. The “Pera sa Kweba” text promo, which runs from September 30 to December 28, guarantees all-expense paid trips to Palawan and a total pay-out of more than P30 million in cash prizes. This includes a grand prize of P25 million to be drawn on December 30. Winning mobile numbers are announced on the Will Time, Big Time program of ABC-5.

The search for the New Seven Wonders of Nature was organized by Switzerland-based New7Wonders Foundation in 2007, drawing 440 entries from more than 220 countries. Millions voted for the top 77, which was further narrowed down to 28 finalists for the final phase.

The Aquino government has issued Presidential Proclamation No. 182 to initiate a promotional campaign for the PPUR, which has also been declared a World Heritage Site by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).