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Monday, May 02, 2011

'Groundbreaking’ Puerto find: Animal life 20 million years ago

PUERTO PRINCESA CITY, Philippines—Recent scientific studies conducted at the Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park have unearthed fossils of extinct animals that scientists said existed at least 20 million years ago before civilization came on earth, a discovery described as “groundbreaking.”
In an interview on Tuesday, Puerto Princesa City Mayor Edward S. Hagedorn confirmed the discovery but declined to give details on the results of a recent expedition conducted by Italian scientists.
The mayor said an announcement is expected to be made by Malacañang “anytime soon.”
The Inquirer, however, learned from a local scientist who collaborated with the Italian group La Venta that the discovery included buried relics “of extinct marine animals that appear to be similar to whales” and “a chamber full of crystals.”

‘Major breakthrough’
Geologist Dr. Jose Antonio Socrates said the relics were embedded in rocks that have formed probably during the early Miocene period, or about 20 million years ago.
These relics were found in unexplored chambers of the St. Paul caves, some located atop the 2.8-kilometer navigable river, which is open to tourists through guided paddle boat tours.
“It is definitely a major breakthrough in understanding the geological makeup of the St. Paul karst mountain. For one thing, it appears to prove our long held theory that this part of the uplifted limestone formations is connected to the vast submerged structures that host fossil fuel deposits, including Camago Malampaya,” Socrates said.
He said the discovery has prompted more interests from the scientific community to explore St. Paul’s uncharted caves.
Hagedorn said La Venta is preparing for another expedition to further explore the caves.

Popularity boost
The new findings have buoyed hopes of local officials to boost the park’s global popularity and propel the country’s campaign for the Underground River to be named one of the world’s seven new natural wonders.
Hagedorn said the Puerto Princesa Underground River National Park “is in serious contention” to make the final cut in the last stage of an Internet-based voting for the seven new natural wonders of the world, a selection process initiated three years ago by a Swiss-based nonprofit organization.
Socrates explained that the St. Paul mountains that host a 24-km long underground river, of which only 2.8 km is open to the viewing public, was uplifted by movements of the earth’s crust between 5 to 20 million years ago.

Ancient topography
The western portion of Palawan that faces the South China Sea is replete with vast landscapes of karst limestone formations, including the picturesque coves of El Nido, located further north of the 430-km long Palawan mainland, and the separated island group of the Calamianes.
“This explains why we find relics of extinct species atop limestone mountains,” he added.

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