(STAR) Photo provided by the Department of Tourism shows a boat carrying tourists at Palawan’s underground river. The Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage site, has made it to the second round of voting for the New 7 Wonders of Nature campaign. The underground river in Palawan is now a step closer to being named one of the world’s new seven wonders of Nature.

The Department of Tourism (DOT) yesterday reported that Palawan’s Subterranean River has been officially selected as the country’s bet in the race for the New 7 Wonders of Nature.

“We are proud to announce that the Philippine marvels have stood strong in the first round of voting. This affirms the support of Filipinos as well as other tourists in helping our natural sites make their mark in the global scene,” Tourism Secretary Ace Durano said.

Durano said results of the first phase of voting in the Official New7Wonders of Nature campaign were announced yesterday at the New7Wonders Foundation headquarters.

According to Durano, the head of communications for New7Wonders Tia Viering sent a letter congratulating the Philippines for qualifying in the second phase of voting.

Viering said the 261 nominees in the second phase of the race are now one step closer to being chosen one of the Official New7Wonders of Nature by the people of the world.

The Philippines’ underground river shares the spotlight with the Coral Triangle, a multinational participant.

Spanning eastern Indonesia, parts of Malaysia, the Philippines, Papua New Guinea, Timor Leste and the Solomon Islands, the Coral Triangle is the global center of marine biodiversity and one of the world’s top priorities for marine conservation.

The qualified 261 national and multinational nominees from the 222 participating countries feature iconic locations such as the Grand Canyon, Loch Ness, the Black Forest, and Mount Fuji, alongside the Amazon, the Danube, the Dead Sea, the Great Barrier Reef, Iguazu Falls, the Kalahari Desert, Mont Blanc, and Niagara Falls.

The first stage of the Official New7Wonders of Nature campaign officially ended last Dec. 31 and voting was suspended on the New7Wonders website until yesterday to allow organizers to tally and verify all votes.

Of the original 441 nominees, 180 or more than 40 percent were eliminated. Those selected will become the pool from which the 21 official finalists are chosen.

A panel of experts will select the 21 finalists from the top 77, which will be announced on July 21 this year.

When the third and final phase of voting begins, the people of the world will have approximately two years to choose from the 21 finalists for the Official New7Wonders of Nature, to be revealed in 2011. Over one billion votes are forecast.

Durano said the new seven Wonders of Nature campaign is expected to promote and increase awareness and appreciation of the different spectacular sites all over the world.

“With billions of supporters all over the globe, promotion of spectacular sites from all over the world has been set to greater heights. It is also very important to call on the sustainable promotion of these tourism sites, which are Nature’s blessings,” Durano said.

Tourism Undersecretary Eduardo Jarque said inclusion of the Philippines’ wonders in the list gives more reason to strengthen not only the promotion but the preservation of our natural sites.

Jarque said the country’s participation in the New7Wonders campaign would inevitably translate to increased interest in seeing the nominees, including the tourist destinations in the Philippines. – Mayen Jaymalin

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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