Greenview Resorts – Visitors Fact Sheet Appendix.
Its wildlife is in many ways unique
PALAWAN FACT SHEET APPENDIX
A more scientific view from greenviews guests Blair and Geoff Browne.
Palawan is a beautiful island. Some 400 kilometres long, with a mountainous spine along its length, but only narrow in width - varying from about 12 to 65 kilometres. Logging has been forbidden by law since 1989 and the island is forested from mountain top down to sea level. It is peaceful, remote, relatively unspoiled and its wildlife is in many ways unique. For example, remarkably for an island this size, there are 445 recorded species of butterfly, of which 32 are endemic to Palawan - not to be found anywhere else. The majestic birdwing Trogonoptera trojana alone is worth going to see! Who knows how many species of moths there are, including the micros? And what about all the beetles, flies, dragonflies, mantids, ants, cockroaches, etc.? Then there are all the plants, from algae to trees!
The sea is another world again; coral reefs teeming with fish, and a bewildering array of other marine life, including dolphins, larger whales, turtles, sea snakes and countless invertebrates! No doubt there is much yet to be recorded. How and why is all this so? That is a question that has been considered since Victorian times.Alfred Russel Wallace, the great Victorian biologist and friendly rival of Charles Darwin, travelled the islands of South East Asia during the 1850's and observed that the many islands could be divided into those that had typically Asian wildlife and those that had typically Australasian life; so he separated them on the map with a line - known to this day as The Wallace Line. The island of Palawan is on the Asian side of the line, along with the rest of the 7,200 or so Philippine islands.
What Wallace seems to have recognised we now know to be the eastern edge of the Sunda Shelf, an ice age continent that existed as an extension of the asian continent when sea levels fell dramatically during the coldest part of the ice age, 18 - 10 thousand years or so ago. As the ice retreated sea levels rose again, and biologists call this now submerged continent Sunderland - lying today under the shallow South China Sea. However, Wallace did not get it quite right. The Philippine islands have moved north along with China, Tibet and the many islands of Indonesia, due to continental drift - including Australia which separated from the continent of Antarctica about 50 million years ago. All of these were once part of the great ancient continent of Gondwana. We also know now that Palawan broke away from the Asian plate and drifted south, isolated for some 40 million years, and reaching its present position about 5 million years ago. When sea levels fell during the ice ages it was connected to Asia again via Borneo, separating once more when sea levels rose as the ice melted.In 1868 Thomas Henry Huxley modified Wallace's line, separating Palawan island from the rest of the Philippines by turning it north at the Makasser Strait. Wallace never accepted Huxley's modification, but our present day knowledge of continental drift supports the modificaton because we now know that Palawan and the rest of the Philippine islands have different origins.
Visitors to Greenviews Resort can see some of these wonders for themselves. At night a mercury vapour light, running off a generator, brings moths to a white sheet, and sometimes skipper butterflies. The large Saturniid moths are a delight; the huge atlas moth (Attacus atlas) being a special treat! A nearby river mouth has a fine mangrove swamp forest which can be visited in a small banca. ('Boat' in the Tagalog language, widely spoken in the Philippines). Mangrove swamp is characteristic of tropical tidal river mouths where the water is shallow and loaded with suspended sediment. The resulting silt is trapped by the aerial roots of the trees, resulting in the slow seaward extension of the land. Mangrove trees (Rhizophora sp.) are all resistant to sea water, and the stilt and aerial roots can extend into salt water further than any other land plant.Interestingly, the seeds begin to germinate while the fruits are still attached to the mother-plant. Each seedling resembles an arrow hanging downwards and, in the case of the east asiatic species Rhizophora mucronata, can reach 60cm (nearly 2 feet) in length by the time they fall to the ground, stabbing into the silty mud that collects around the dense tree roots. Here they quickly grow roots and produce leaves.
Mangrove snakes can be seen in the branches overhanging the water, and Palawan has its own endemic subspecies - Boiga dendrophila multicincta. Sea snakes can sometimes be glimpsed in the river as they surface to breathe, and monitor lizards (Varanus salvator) can be seen on the mud or swimming in the river. In the trees you may see long-tailed macaques (Macaca fascicularis), and a variety of birds - woodpeckers, kingfishers, herons and egrets. Colourful crabs make their burrows in the mud on the river banks, and clams cluster on the mangrove roots.
Port Barton is situated in a shallow, sheltered bay which is a marine reserve area with its own coral reef, only just below the surface in places. This is just right for snorkellers, or those with a clear bottomed bucket who wish to stay dry in the boat! A local dive master can provide excellent diving facilities for those qualified to aqualung dive in open water, and this can be arranged through Greenviews Resort.About 2 hours away by boat is the Puerto Princesa Subterranean National Park (Underground River), a World Heritage Site. A guided boat trip into the cave is enjoyable not only because it is said to be the longest navigable underground river in the world, but also because of the splendid stalactite and stalagmite formations to be seen there, and the swiftlets and eight species of bats that roost in the cave in hundreds. (If not thousands). Outside the cave the beach and forest scenery is wonderful, with marked trails, trees identified with labels, and signs bearing information about the Site and its wildlife. You can get close to really big monitor lizards, and long-tailed macaques - who will steal your sandwiches if you are not vigilant! A visit to the El Nido area by boat, stopping at some of the many uninhabited islands and lagoons is a breath taking experience, they really are straight out of a paradise island holiday catalogue! For the naturalist interested in seashore life, snorkelling or just beachcombing for shells, etc., this is a highlight of the trip to Palawan. Greenviews Resort is the gateway to a naturalist's paradise – a photographer's too!