MANILA – The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) has approved the reclassification of four caves in the provinces of Abra, Quezon, and Albay for proper management and conservation.

The DENR, through its Biodiversity Management Bureau (BMB), Regional and Provincial offices, reclassified from Class I to Class II the Ganway Cave in Barangay Malamsit, Peñarrubia town and the Quitinday Cave in Jovellar town, both in the province of Albay.

Sung Wan Cave in Barangay Lawigue, Tayabas City, Quezon province was also reclassified from Class I to Class II.

Meanwhile, Palale Cave in Barangay Ibaba Palale in Tayabas City was moved from Class II to I.

DENR refers to Class I caves as those with delicate and fragile geological formations, threatened species, and archeological and paleontological values.

Caves under this category may only be used for “mapping, photography, educational, and scientific purposes” due to their natural values and hazardous conditions. These are closed for ecotourism activities.

Meanwhile, Class II caves contain areas or portions with hazardous conditions and sensitive geological, archeological, cultural, historical, and biological values or high-quality ecosystems.

Caves under Class II can be used for guided educational tours and visits led by experienced cavers.

DENR OIC Secretary Ernesto Adobo, Jr. said the classification of the caves is pursuant to the DENR Administrative Order No. 2003-29 or the Implementing Rules and Regulations of Republic Act 9072 or the National Caves and Cave Resources Management and Protection Act of 2001 to assess the value of the cave and ascertain its appropriate use.

Under the law, the DENR is tasked to plan, develop, and implement a national program for the management, protection, and conservation of caves and cave resources.

“Finding the middle ground where the critical importance of caves to the country’s biodiversity and the critical role they have to the nation’s socio-cultural heritage meet demonstrates the distinct mandate of the DENR to secure the sustainability of the country’s rich natural resources and their benefits to our people,” Adobo said.

With nature-based ecotourism as a critical sector of the country’s tourism industry, Adobo pointed out that the pandemic “has highlighted the crucial role the DENR plays” in setting the standards on the development of the country’s natural resources, like water bodies and caves, according to their beneficial uses.

“These initiatives set a road to more resilient and regenerative nature-based tourism practices that illustrate their natural resilience and, as a result, enable the public to enjoy these natural assets in perpetuity,” Adobo added.

Before their reclassification, the caves have been assessed for safety and supply of oxygen, high endemism and presence of threats and hazards, safety of its areas as potential ecotourism sites, and absence of hazardous conditions.

DENR-BMB OIC-Director Natividad Bernardino said DENR field offices have conducted a re-assessment prior to the reclassification through their cave assessment teams to evaluate changes in the cave and cave resources.

“Caves harbor unique fauna, some of which can be sources of raw materials for food, while others such as bats contribute to pollination that provide food for people and other animals,” Bernardino said.

She reminded the public to follow the protocols for safe caving.

“Visit tourism centers and ask for Department of Tourism-accredited cave guides who will help in navigating caves safely,” Bernardino said. “Wear proper caving attire and follow proper cave decorum to minimize the impact of ecotourism on caves, as well as ensure visitor safety.” (PR)