This park features a spectacular limestone karst landscape with an underground river. One of the river's distinguishing features is that it emerges directly into the sea, and its lower portion is subject to tidal influences. The area also represents a significant habitat for biodiversity conservation. The site contains a full 'mountain-to-sea' ecosystem and has some of the most important forests in Asia.
Outstanding Universal Value
Puerto-Princesa Subterranean River National Park encompasses one of the world’s most impressive cave systems, featuring spectacular limestone karst landscapes, pristine natural beauty, and intact old-growth forests and distinctive wildlife. It is located in the south-western part of the Philippine Archipelago on the mid western coast of Palawan, approximately 76 km northwest of Puerto Princesa and 360 km southwest of Manila.
The property, comprising an area of approximately 5,753ha, contains an 8.2km long underground river. The highlight of this subterranean river system is that it flows directly into the sea, with its brackish lower half subjected to tidal influence, distinguishing it as a significant natural global phenomenon. The river’s cavern presents remarkable, eye catching rock formations. The property contains a full mountain-to-sea ecosystem which provides significant habitat for biodiversity conservation and protects the most intact and noteworthy forests within the Palawan biogeographic province. Holding the distinction of being the first national park devolved and successfully managed by a local government unit, the park’s effective management system is a symbol of commitment by the Filipino people to the protection and conservation of their natural heritage.
Criterion (vii): The Puerto-Princesa Subterranean River National Park features a spectacular limestone or karst landscape. It contains an underground river that flows directly to the sea. The lower half of the river is brackish and subject to ocean tide. The associated tidal influence on the river makes this a significant natural phenomenon. The river’s cavern exhibits dramatic speleothems and several large chambers of as much as 120m wide and 60m high. Its accessibility and navigability up to 4.5km inland allows it to be experienced by the general public, who can view the magnificent rock formations on a river cruise unequalled by any other similar experience elsewhere in the world.
Criterion (x): The property contains globally significant habitat for biodiversity conservation. It includes a full mountain-to-sea ecosystem, protecting the most significant forest area within the Palawan Biogeographic Province. There are eight intact forest formations: forest on ultramafic soil, forest on limestone soil, montane forest, freshwater swamp forest, lowland evergreen tropical rainforest, riverine forest, beach forest, and mangrove forest, included in the property. It contains outstanding biodiversity with the Palawan Moist Forest recognized by the WWF’s Global Report as containing the richest tree flora, with high levels of regional and local endemism and as being the largest and most valuable limestone forest in Asia.
The property, including the karst mountain landscapes and the underground river, is in excellent condition. Integrity of the property is also expressed in the complete "mountain-to-the-sea" ecosystem that protects one of the most significant forests in Asia. The uniqueness of the mangrove forests in the Bay along with the flora and fauna they harbour, and the bioecological connection with the caves and surrounding forest is protected within the core area of the property ensuring the local key inter-related and inter-dependant elements of their natural relationships are protected.
The Puerto-Princesa Subterranean River National Park, comprising 5753ha and covering three barangays, encompasses the natural values of the property and is of adequate size to protect all the various landforms and the estuarine ecosystem that conveys the Outstanding Universal Value of the property. The boundaries of the property cover the entire watershed of the underground river, thus protecting water quality and quantity and ensuring the long-term viability of the outstanding natural values contained within the property. The biodiversity values of the property are highlighted in Barangay Marufinas which is included in the property along with the adjacent barangays which also contain significant biodiversity values and habitats important to their integrity. Management guidelines are needed to address threats to the property including pollutants impacting on water quality in the underground river. Threats to the property are mainly from adverse activities in adjacent catchment areas, primarily forest clearing and agricultural activities. Tourism activities require careful planning and management to ensure the natural values are not impacted.
Protection and management requirements
Effective site protection is provided at a local rather than a national level through agreements that place legal ownership with the City Government of Puerto Princesa. This arrangement for local ownership ensures the property’s national values are maintained even after changes in local management perspectives. The property is also covered by the National Integrated Protected Area System (NIPAS) Act of 1992 which ensures legal protection and conservation of protected areas in the Philippines. It decrees that all management decisions for the property are made in consultation with the Protected Areas Management Board (PAMB). Multilateral agreement provisions between national government agencies and local stakeholders have been considered throughout the planning and management of the site to ensure protection and conservation of its natural values.
Management of the park is conducted within the boundary as two zones: a core comprising the Park and a surrounding buffer. The Management Plan for the park sets out relevant objectives and programs and provides zoning within the park’s boundaries wherein different management regimes apply. Management of the property is very effective, reflecting strong local political support and enabling the provision of reasonable funding and staffing. Its key directive is to conserve the underground river and the forest ecosystem in their most natural state possible.
Management of the buffer is covered by guidelines that seek to regulate activities that may impact on the property. They also provide for the establishment of sustainable protective measures for agricultural lands within the buffer. Thus, not only conserving the natural resources of the area, but also improving the quality of life of its residents. However, more resources are required for the full implementation of the management plan and guidelines.
Tourism, identified as a potential threat, adversely impacting the natural values of the property, is being addressed through tourism management objectives set out in the Management Plan. But as tourist visits are increasing, more staff training in park planning and management is required to ensure effective management of tourism activities. The property’s tourism program aims to enhance visitor’s experience with nature while protecting the natural values. The threats posed by uncontrolled access from outside developments are being addressed through the implementation of a limit of 600 visitors per day. Wildlife population surveys are conducted annually to monitor the effects of tourism on wildlife.
Threats from activities such as forest clearing and agriculture also need to be addressed in the Management Plan. Water quality in the underground river, invariably affected by upstream activities in the catchment area, as well as concerns about pollution inputs to the river, need to be addressed in the management guidelines. Regular awareness campaigns at the level of the barangays are needed to ensure natural values of the property are conserved within their jurisdictions and the establishment of an integrated land use plan is required to ensure long term conservation of the natural values of the property.
The site of the Puerto-Princesa Subterranean River National Park is located in the Saint Paul Mountain Range. It is north-west of Puerto Princesa, the capital of Palawan Province. The topography varies from flat plains to rolling hinterlands and hills to mountain peaks. Over 90% of the park comprises sharp, karst limestone ridges around Mount St Paul, which is itself part of a series of rounded, limestone peaks aligned on a north-south axis, along the western coast of Palawan.
The focus of the area is a spectacular karst landscape which features both surface karst features (pinnacles, shafts, dolines and limestone cliffs), as well as an extensive underground river system. The subterranean river is 8.2 km long, one of the most unique of its type in the world and includes many speleotherms, several large chambers exist, up to 120 m wide and 60 m high. 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 south-west of Mount Saint Paul at an altitude of 100 m, and flows underground for almost its entire length to an outflow into St Paul's Bay. All rivers and associated tributaries are within the park, which is important in relation to catchments impacts on the water quality of the Cabayugan River.
Approximately two-thirds of the site is forested, dominated by hardwood species. Three forest formations are present: lowland, karst and limestone. The karst forest is restricted to small pockets where soils have developed. In the coastal area, mangroves, mossy forest, seagrass beds and coral reefs are also found.
The faunal diversity in the park is moderate, especially with respect to invertebrates. Endemic mammals include the Palawan tree shrew, Palawan porcupine and Palawan stink badger. Dugong has 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 this site (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 bat 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. Source: UNESCO/CLT/WHC