Puerto-Princesa Subterranean River National Park, Philippines


Puerto-Princesa Subterranean River National Park is a World Heritage Site located in the Philippines located at 10° 10'N, 118° 55'E.

Geographical location

The area is located in the Saint Paul Mountain Range on the northern coast of Palawan Province. St. Paul Bay bound the territory of the national park to the north and the Babuyan River to the east. It situated in some 80 kilometers (km) Northwest from the center of the City of Puerto Princesa, the capital of Palawan Province. National Park is accessible from Puerto Princesa by road and boat, via Baheli 10° 10'N, 118° 55'E.

Date and history of establishment

caption Map of Puerto Princesa. (Source: National Mapping and Resource Information Authority)

The area of the Subterranean River has long aroused curiosity. Since the middle of the XIX century it attracted attention of visitors to the area. The national park was established in 26 March 1971 under Presidential Proclamation No. 835 and was managed by the Philippine Department of Environment and Natural Resources. In 1992 the boundaries of the site were inscribed with a Presidential Proclamation under the Republic Act 7586 (NIPAS Act of 1992), and the actual management of the national park was transferred to the City Government of Puerto Princesa, which has Management Board of the national park. The territory of the park forms part of a core zone of the Palawan Island Biosphere Reserve, recognized under the UNESCO MAB Programme in 1990, and a core zone of the Ecologically Critical Area Network (ECAN), the central element of the Strategic Environmental Plan for Palawan Province. It was chosen as one of the protected areas for the Debt-for-Nature Swap Program in 1989. In 1992 the St. Paul Subterranean River National Park won an award of the Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA) in the Environmental Enhancement Category. In 1993 Protected Area Management Board based in Puerto Princesa suggested to extend park's area up to 86,000 hectares (ha). Inscribed as a World Heritage site in 1999.


20,202 ha. This includes the land area of the national park, a core zone of 5,753 ha, plus a buffer zone of 14,449 ha.

Land tenure

Ownership of the core zone was officially transferred from the national Government to the City Government of Puerto Princesa in 1992. Ownership of the buffer zone is mixed, and probably includes considerable private ownership.


From the sea level up to the highest point of the park, which is 1,028 meters (m) above sea level (Mount Saint Paul).

Physical features

Paul Subterranean River National Park consists of various landforms, the most impressive of which is the limestone that forms the karst mountain landscape of the St. Paul Mountain Range. Topography varies from flat plains to rolling hinterlands and hills to mountain peaks. Mountains characterized by a juvenile topography. More than 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 principal feature of the park is an underground river, over 8-km long and known as the Subterranean River or St. Paul Cave. It includes major formation of stalactites and stalagmites, and several large chambers exist, up to 120 m in width and 60 m in height. The river arises approximately 2-km south-west of Mount St. Paul at an altitude of 100 m, and flows underground for almost its entire length to an outflow into the sea at St. Paul's Bay. A small marine component is included within the park boundary. Another hydrological feature is the Babuyan River, which stretching along the eastern side of the Park.


Dry season from November to April, and wet from May to October. Mean annual rainfall averages from approximately 2,000 - 3,000 millimeters (mm). Average temperature is 27° Celsius (C).


Three forest formations are present: lowland, karst and limestone. Approximately two-thirds of the reserve vegetation is natural, dominated by apitong Dipterocarpus grandiflora, ipil Instia bijuga and other hardwood species. Large specimens of Dracontomelon dao, Swintonia foxworthyi, Atuna racemosa, Diospyros and Pometia pinnata are also found. This lowland forest is part of the Palawan Moist Forest, one of the WWF Global 200 Ecoregions and noted as having the richest tree flora in Asia. The karst forest is restricted to small pockets where soils have developed. Typical species in this kind of forest are Antidesma sp., Drypetes sp., Sterculia sp., and Pipturus sp., including largest lianas Stophantus sp., Marillana sp. and Champersia sp. Coastal forest, which covers no more than 4 ha, is dominated by large specimens of Calophyllum inophylum, Pometia pinnata and Palaquium dubardii. Mangroves are an important feature in Ulugan Bay. Mossy forest and savannas, offshore seagrass beds and coral reefs are also found.


caption Palawan peacock pheasant. (Source: Smithsonian National Zoological Park)

The fauna is considered moderate, especially with respect to invertebrates. Endemic mammals include Palawan tree shrew Tipaia palawanensis, Palawan porcupine Thecurus pumilis and Palawan stink badger Suillotaxus marchei. Other mammals include binturong Arctictis binturong, anteater Manis javanicus, oriental small-clawed otter Amblonyx cinerea, palm civet Paradoxurus hermaphroditus, oriental civet Viverra tangalunga and crab eating macaque Maccaca fasicularis. Dugong Dugong dugon have been recorded in the marine sectors of the park. Birds includes herons Egretta sacra, stork-billed kingfisher Pelargopsis capensis, collared scops owl Otus bakkamoena, white bellied swiftlet Collocalia esculenta, pygmy swiftlet C. troglodytes, scrub-hen Megapodius freycinet cumingii and sea eagle Haliaeetus leucogaster. Monitor lizard Varanus salvator and marine turtles are also present. The tunnel and chambers of the subterranean river is home to abundant populations of swiftlets and eight species of bats. Palawan peacock pheasant Polyplectron emphanum has also been recorded.

Cultural heritage

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 people, of whom only 200-250 survive, and Tagbanua communities who live around the boundaries, including the coast. The Tagbaunas unlike the Bataks are generally acculturated to the Christian culture.

Local human population

The only residents of the core area of the park are the staff members. These households and communities surrounded the national park supplement their livelihood through the gathering of rattan and almaciga (resin) and practicing swidden agriculture. There are resident populations within the buffer areas, although no further details are available.

Visitors and visitor facilities

Bridges, trails, and boats provide access to the park and the underground river, and some accommodation and camping facilities are provided.

Scientific research and facilities

Topographic and hydrologic studies of the area of Subterranean River and the River itself began in 1911. Recent research studies were conducted in 1980-81 by the Australian Speleological Society. In 1991 a joint study of the Subterranean River was undertaken by the Italian Speleological team with participation of the national park, Debt-for-Nature Swap Programme and the Philippine Department of Environment and Natural Resources.

Conservation value

Palawan Island is a remnant of the land bridges that formed during glacial periods, and consequently supports a flora and fauna that is radically different from that of the rest of the Philippines, bearing a much closer resemblance to Borneo. The territory of the national park is biologically rich, with three types of forest, as well as mangroves, mossy forests, and seagrass beds and coral reefs in the marine portion. The particular value of protection of an entire watershed is noted, and will be important, particularly with respect to the long-term protection of low-lying and coastal ecosystems. St. Paul's Range features a spectacular karst limestone landscape, beneath which flows the underground river. A bibliography is provided in the nomination form and in annexes.

Conservation management

The core area of the site is owned the City Government of the Puerto Princesa, and hence falls under the authority of the City Mayor. All decisions are made by the Mayor in Consultation with the Protected Areas Management Board. The main management strategy is the expansion of the area to include tribal lands and to focus the management concern to the predicament of the vanishing tribes. Other objectives include: protection of the watershed to prevent flooding and erosion and to protect water supplies; protection of ecosystems, biological diversity and rare and endemic species; protection and contributing to the livelihood of local communities and securing their co-operation in management; and support of ecotourism. Several ranger stations have been established. Management was strengthened considerably when the park became the subject of an internationally financed Debt-for-Nature swap program during 1989. A detailed management plan has been compiled by the Protected Area Management Board of the local government, in accordance with National Integrated Protected Areas System Act adopted in 1992. Recently a new management plan has been drawn by the national park's management authority under Palawan Tropical Forestry Protection Programme assisted by the European Council.

Management constraints

Issues that need to be addressed include logging and mining; forest product licensing (for rattan collection); uncontrolled tourism development in Sabang and San Rafael; and damage to watersheds. Agricultural activities of local residents may threaten the site, as does the collecting of forest products such as rattans. There are also threats to the natural vegetation; the small patches of coastal forest have been designated as recreation areas and extensive under brushing has been compounded with inappropriate planting. Although the site is currently administered at the local level this is considered effective, largely reflecting a strong local political support for the site, any future changes in local management perspectives might change this. There is a relatively large staff, although the need for further staff training has been noted.


50 people, including administration, rangers and assistant staff.


No information.

IUCN management category

  • St. Paul Subterranean River National Park II (National park)
  • World Heritage Site - Criteria (i), (ii) and (iii)

Further reading

  • DENR (1992). Nomination dossier for St. Paul Subterranean National Park. Man and the Biosphere: Philippines. Department of Environment and Natural Resources. Quezon City. 19pp + annexes.
  • IUCN (1999, in litt.) World Heritage Nomination - IUCN Technical Evaluation. St Paul Subterranean River National Park (Philippines).
  • PAWB (1992) Profile of National Parks in the Philippines. Protected Areas and Wildlife Bureau, Department of Environment and Natural Resources. Quezon City. 174 pp.
  • Nomination Dossier of the St. Paul Subterranean River National Park for inclusion in the World Heritage List (1998). 31pp + Annexes and maps.
  • 1996 IUCN Red List of Threatened Animals. Compiled and edited by Jonathan Baillie and Brian Groombridge. IUCN, 1996. ISBN: 2831703352.

Disclaimer: This article is taken wholly from, or contains information that was originally published by, the United Nations Environment Programme-World Conservation Monitoring Centre (UNEP-WCMC). Topic editors and authors for the Encyclopedia of Earth may have edited its content or added new information. The use of information from the United Nations Environment Programme-World Conservation Monitoring Centre (UNEP-WCMC) should not be construed as support for or endorsement by that organization for any new information added by EoE personnel, or for any editing of the original content.



M, U. (2008). Puerto-Princesa Subterranean River National Park, Philippines. Retrieved from http://www.eoearth.org/view/article/155603


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