I’m referring to what’s currently happening in Boracay Island in Central Philippines. The tourist destination famous for its powdery white sand, turquoise waters, and wonderful views is now under a state of calamity.

Following a confirmed and verified report, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has ordered the temporary closure of Boracay Island as a tourist destination. Starting on 26 April 2018, a six-month rehabilitation process must be undertaken to clean up the environmental mess on the island.

The inter-agency task force that conducted an investigation has discovered these horrifying environmental violations, among others.

  1. Thirty-seven of the 51 commercial establishments that are built close to the shores of Boracay Island are found to have violated the provisions of Republic Act (RA) 9275 or the Philippine Clean Water Act.
  2. These commercial establishments and most residents fail to connect to the sewerage system of Boracay Island. Instead, they dispose of their untreated wastes and runoffs directly into the sea. And this is a gross violation of the environmental law, rules, and regulations.
  3. The direct disposal of wastewater near the shore consequently resulted in the algal bloom and coral degradation. Because of this, erosion and reduction of the source of sand occur.
  4. A high concentration of fecal coliform is discovered in the Bolabog beaches, which is on the eastern side of the island. Insufficient sewerage system and irresponsible disposal of untreated wastewater are to be blamed for such growth. Based on the tests conducted by the inter-agency task force on March 6-10 this year, there is a consistent failure of the residents and commercial establishments to comply with the acceptable water standards. Whereas the standard level is only at 400 Most Probable Number (MPN) per 100 milliliters, the tests revealed an average result of 18,000 MPN/100ml, which is way too high.
  5. At least 5 of the 9 wetlands in Boracay Island have been encroached. Concrete structures and tourist facilities are now illegally built on these protected areas instead.
  6. The ecological balance of the island extremely suffers due to the insufficient sewerage and waste management system and massive beach erosion, among many factors. The Department of Science and Technology (DOST) reported that the island’s West Beach area is affected by as much as 40 meters of erosion in the past 20 years between 1993 and 2003. Such erosion was caused mainly by these factors:

a. Storms
b. Extraction of sand along the beach for the construction of properties and other structures on the foreshores
c. Discharge of wastewater near the shore that has caused degradation of coral reefs and seagrass meadows. The coral reefs and seagrass meadows would have supplied the beach with sediments and serve as a buffer against wave action.

Sewerage-discharges-into-sea-water

Sewerage discharges into sea water | Photo from Wall Strell International

The inadequate sewerage and waste management system, and the rampant environmental abuse of establishments contribute much to the ecological imbalance of the island.

With this poor and deteriorating environmental conditions, the island cannot sustain the continuously increasing number of tourist arrivals. Besides, it’s a shame to have the guests swimming and doing water activities on the contaminated water.

According to the Western Visayas Regional Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (RDRRMC), Boracay Island receives at least 18,082 tourists daily.

Aside from the tourists, island residents and other stakeholders would also be adversely affected by the unhealthy environment.

The-waste-problem

The waste problem | Photo from Wall Strell International

On the positive side: lessons to learn

Somehow, the temporary closure of Boracay Island can be viewed as a blessing in disguise. I’ve seen at least four reasons that stakeholders can learn from the closure.

First, it will allow the island paradise to take a breather from the frenzied life. With the rehabilitation process underway, it’s now taking its beauty rest from the overwhelming tourist influx. And I’m sure that after the cleanup and rehabilitation, Boracay Island will regain its glory. It will return to the top spot of the most preferred tourist destinations.

Secondly, the island’s labor force, business owners, and residents have realized for themselves the value of prudence. That Boracay Island, which has economically sustained them for so many years, is worth preserving. That the island is Nature’s gift to them.

Third, the closure serves as a warning to other tourist destinations. That environmental laws, rules, and regulations must be obeyed. Not to mention the law of Nature. Otherwise, they might experience what Boracay Island has experienced, which take a great toll on tourist revenues.

And fourth, ‘Change has come’ and it’s real! Local government units that turned a blind eye and a deaf ear on the environmental violations must realize that President Rodrigo Duterte is not like his predecessors.

When he said he wanted an end to corruption, he meant it! Although, as of this publication, the Filipino people still wait to see whose heads will roll over the Boracay Island issue.