Palawan, the largest province in the Philippines, is a complex ecosystem that serves as refuge to more than a hundred marine and terrestrial threatened species, including the Philippine cockatoo, Palawan soft-furred mountain rat, Palawan peacock pheasant, Philippine pond turtle, and several species of marine turtles.
Palawan is often called the Philippines' “last biodiversity frontier” because it still retains more than 50 percent of its original forest cover, and harbors vast stretches of old growth forests on its mountainous slopes.
Nearly 20 percent of the population is composed of indigenous ethnic groups who depend on subsistence fi shing and farming for their livelihoods, and manage a significant portion of Palawan’s natural resources under their ancestral domain claims.
This unspoiled province, with its incredible biodiversity and unique indigenous cultures, was declared a Biosphere Reserve by the United National Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in 1990. Palawan is also home to two World Heritage sites — the Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park, which includes the world’s longest navigable underground river, and the Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park, the spectacular, uninhabited coral reef atolls with thousands of abundant manta rays, whale sharks, marine turtles, sharks, and more than 400 species of fish.
Unfortunately, however, rapid urbanization and consequent increases in utilization and extraction of natural resources do not bode well for Palawan’s biodiversity, or for the indigenous groups who have traditionally depended on those natural resources both for income and for important cultural and social reasons. High migration rates are also creating tremendous pressure on the upland forest areas and coastal areas where most of the migrants settle. The uncontrolled population due to in-migration has led to encroachment into sensitive areas where resources are exploited in unsustainable and destructive ways.
In Palawan, Conservation International's work in Mt. Mantalingahan Protected Landscape serves as a field model towards demonstrating how ecosystem services benefit humanity and how protected area management that values and protects nature’s assets supports human well-being at the community and livelihood level.