The Philippines is known for having beautiful beaches and superlative snorkeling. But these days, the popular island of Boracay can boast neither.
Its once-crystal-clear waters have been tainted by sewage and garbage, and in order to clean up what President Rodrigo Duterte has called a “cesspool,” the government announced on Wednesday that it would close the island for 6 months.
Over the past few decades, Boracay has become a major tourist hotspot, leading to the rapid and unregulated development of the island’s tourism industry . With that development came a massive environmental problem.
One survey found that around 85% of residential and business properties on Boracay did not have proper, authorized sewage facilities and were pumping waste into the sea, CNN reported. And though the island produces 90 to 115 tonnes of trash daily, its infrastructure can only handle and remove 30 tonnes a day, according to Mashable.
Residents and business owners told CNN and the New York Times that they asked for help building infrastructure to process the waste and garbage produced by the tourism boom — but help never came. Instead of the proper waste management solutions they were promised, the island’s inhabitants ended up with a system that dumped waste just off its shores.
Despite the spoiling of its famous waters, Boracay’s influx of tourists has not stemmed over the years; in fact, it has grown. In 2017 alone, the island attracted 2 million visitors, the New York Times reported.
While cleanup of the island and its surrounding waters is much-needed, the government’s impending “total closure” — set to begin on April 26 — is controversial.
Boracay generates more than $1 billion in revenue annually and its tourism industry supports the livelihoods of around 36,000 people.So the island’s closure could strip people of their sources of income.
"We were expecting some sort of compromise between a partial or total closure or at least given more time to adjust to a closure, but I guess the president made up his mind and we’re taken aback by it,” Jose Clemente III, president of the Tourism Congress of the Philippines, told ABS-CBN. “We’re a bit depressed right now in the industry.”
Spoke with a Boracay business owner who is set to close, terminate 200 employees and default on loans if the island is closed as scheduled at the end of April. He's just one of over a thousand businesses. 40k unemployed people on an island? Boracay will turn into Venezuela.— Shakira Sison (@shakirasison) April 3, 2018
In order to ensure Boracay’s total closure during the six-month cleaning period, environment undersecretary Jonas Leones has said that airlines and ferries would also need to suspend their services to the island, the Guardian reported.
Duterte has used strong language in his condemnation of Boracay’s failure to sustainably develop and has threatened to close the island for months. And although the government has now announced its plan to close the island, it has not provided any details about its strategy to clean it up. As such, the fate of Boracay’s shores remains to be seen.
Global Citizen campaigns to preserve the environment and save our oceans. You can take action here to be part of the solution by pledging to help clean up beaches, wherever you are.