Palawan, is an island province of the Philippines located in the MIMAROPA region or Region 4. Its capital is Puerto Princesa City, and it is the largest province in the country in terms of total area of jurisdiction. The islands of Palawan stretch from Mindoro in the northeast to Borneo in the southwest. It lies between the South China Sea and the Sulu Sea. The province is named after its largest island, Palawan Island (09°30′N 118°30′E ), measuring 450 kilometres (280 mi) long, and 50 kilometres (31 mi) wide.
Palawan is composed of the long and narrow Palawan Island, plus a number of other smaller islands surrounding the main island. The Calamianes Group of Islands to the Northeast consists of Busuanga Island, Coron Island and Culion Island. Durangan Island almost touches the westernmost part of Palawan Island, while Balabac Island is located off the southern tip, separated from Borneo by the Balabac Strait. In addition, Palawan covers the Cuyo Islands in the Sulu Sea. The disputed Spratly Islands, located a few hundred kilometres to the west, are considered part of Palawan by the Philippines, and is locally called the Kalayaan Group of Islands.
Palawan’s almost 2,000 kilometres (1,200 mi) of irregular coastline are dotted with roughly 1,780 islands and islets, rocky coves, and sugar-white sandy beaches. It also harbors a vast stretch of virgin forests that carpet its chain of mountain ranges. The mountain heights average 3,500 feet (1,100 m) in altitude, with the highest peak rising to 6,843 feet (2,086 m) at Mount Mantalingahan. The vast mountain areas are the source of valuable timber. The terrain is a mix of coastal plain, craggy foothills, valley deltas, and heavy forest interspersed with riverine arteries that serve as irrigation.
The crust of northeast Palawan was derived from the Eurasian Plate of mainland China. It is the exposed portion of a microcontinent that drifted southward with the opening of the South China Sea. This microcontinent also forms the shallow water north of Palawan in the Reed Bank-Dangerous Grounds area of the southern South China Sea. Some of the oldest rocks of the Philippines are found in northeast Palawan (Permian-Carboniferous age). Southwest Palawan exposes primarily ophiolitic material (rocks derived from uplifted oceanic crust and mantle). This oceanic material appears to have been thrust upon the continental crust. The transition from “oceanic” ophiolite in the southwest to “continental”-type rocks in the northeast occurs in the area of central Palawan around Ulugan Bay. In the Dalrymple Point area, on the east side of Ulugan Bay, are several exposures showing that the Palawan ophiolite has been thrust on to the continent-derived clastic rocks (“Sabang thrust”).
Specific rock types in the “continental” northeast, include clastic rocks (sandstones and mudstones). Good exposures of these rocks types can be found on the main road running along the southern coast east of Puerto Princesa all the way up to Malampaya Sound. These rocks probably formed the continental shelf, rise, slope or even deeper marine deposits on the southeast margin of China prior to the opening of the South China Sea. The Palawan Trench is a deep ocean element of the South China Sea.
Further north, around the Malampaya Sound area and up to the El Nido area, one finds deep marine chert and limestone. Based on the structure of these sedimentary units, it is thought that they formed part of an accretionary prism on the southeast margin of China at a time when that part of China was an Andean-type plate margin (an ocean-continent subduction zone). The chert and limestone were scraped off of an oceanic plate and accreted to the margin of China (again, prior to the opening of the South China Sea). Some of the limestones are also thought to be of olistostromal origin (i.e., they formed in shallow water but were transported to deeper water by submarine slides).
It is interesting to note that the spectacular karst limestones in the St. Paul area and El Nido area that Palawan is somewhat famous for, are of different origin and age. The limestones in the St. Paul National Park east of Ulugan Bay (where the famous Undeground River is located) are relatively young. Based on their fossil content they are assigned an Oligocene-Miocene age (~30 to 15 million years old). These younger limestones formed largely as reef structures on the bit of continental crust that drifted south from China during the opening of the South China Sea. These are the same limestones that host most of the oil and gas that is being extracted offshore in the South China Sea. In contrast, the limestones in the El Nido area are largely Permian in age (~300-250 million years old). They are related to the karst limestones of Vietnam and China.
Intruding these rocks in central Palawan (Cleopatra’s Needle area) and northern Palawan (Mount Capoas or Kapoas area) are young granite bodies (true granite to granodiorite) of Miocene age (13-15 million years old based on zircon and monazite U-Pb dating). In the Taytay area of northern Palawan, a young basaltic cinder cone is another manifestation of young magmatic activity. The granitic magmatism and basaltic magmatism are both expressions of what has been identified as a widespread post-South China Sea spreading magmatism that has affected many areas around the South China Sea. Hydrothermal activity associated with mercury mineralization near Puerto Princesa is yet another sign of recent magmatic-hydrothermal activity. Surprisingly though, Palawan is relatively “quiet” in terms of seismic activity. Very few moderate-sized earthquakes are recorded in the area in contrast to the rest of the Philippines east of Palawan which are very seismically active.
Tectonically, Palawan with the Calamian Islands, is considered to be a north-east extension of the Sunda Plate, in collision with the Philippine Mobile Belt at Mindoro.
The history of Palawan may be traced back 22,000 years ago, as confirmed by the discovery of bone fragments of the Tabon Man in the municipality of Quezon. Although the origin of the cave dwellers is not yet established, anthropologists believe they came from Borneo. Known as the Cradle of Philippine Civilization, the Tabon Caves consist of a series of chambers where scholars and anthropologists discovered the remains of the Tabon Man along with his tools and a number of artifacts.
Coron Reefs, Coron Bay, Busuanga
Seven lakes surrounded by craggy limestone cliffs attract hundreds of nature lovers to Coron Reefs in Northern Palawan, near the town of Coron. Busuanga Island, whose main town is Coron, is the jump-off point for numerous dive operators. The principal dive sites are 12 World War II Japanese shipwrecks sunk on September 24, 1944 by US Navy action. They range in depth from the surface to 40 meters. This large variety offers exciting wreck exploration for enthusiasts, from novice divers and snorkelers and recreational divers to experienced TEC divers. The aquatic views from the sunken Japanese warships off Coron Island are listed in Forbes Traveler Magazine’s top 10 best scuba sites in the world.
Dive operators offer PADI dive courses ranging from Discover Scuba to Assistant Instructor, Technical and Enriched Air Diving, as well as other specialty courses. Dive operators offer day diving, snorkeling trips, and overnight dive safaris. Live-aboard and charter boats also offer diving in the area.
The January 2008 issue of international magazine Travel + Leisure, published by the American Express Co. (which partnered with Conservation International) listed El Nido’s sister hotel resorts El Nido Lagen Island and El Nido Miniloc Island in Miniloc and Lagen Islands as “conservation-minded places on a mission to protect the local environment.” Travel + Leisures 20 Favorite Green Hotels scored El Nido Resort’s protection of Palawan’s giant clam gardens and the re-introduction of endangered Philippine cockatoos: “8. El Nido Resorts, Philippines: Guest cottages on stilts are set above the crystalline ocean. The resorts are active in both reef and island conservation.”
In 1902, after the Philippine-American War, the Americans established civil rule in northern Palawan, calling it the province of Paragua. In 1903, pursuant to Philippine Commission Act No. 1363, the province was reorganized to include the southern portions and renamed Palawan, and Puerto Princesa declared as its capital.
Many reforms and projects were later introduced in the province. Construction of school buildings, promotion of agriculture, and bringing people closer to the government were among the priority plans during this era.
Palawan’s economy is basically agricultural. The three major crops are palay, corn and coconut. Mineral resources include nickel, copper, manganese, and chromite. Logging is also a major industry. Palawan has one of the richest fishing grounds in the country. About 45% of Manila’s supply of fish comes from here. Having natural gas reserves of approximately 30,000 trillion cubic feet, the province is the only oil-producing province in the country. In addition, tourism is also a thriving sector.
Pearl diving used to be a significant economic activity for Palawan until the advent of plastics. The world’s largest pearl, the 240mm diameter Pearl of Lao Tzu, was found off Palawan in 1934.
The economic and agricultural business growth of province is at 20% per annum. Coconut, sugar, rice, lumber, and livestock are produced here.