SOMETIMES, tough talk is what we need to jolt us into action.
This certainly seems to be the case in Boracay, the island paradise in Aklan province that drew two-million tourists in 2017, about half of them from overseas. Business has been so good, in fact, that the Malay Municiapl Tourism Office says it is targeting 2.2-million visitor arrivals this year.
But all is not well on the white sand beaches of Boracay, as the island copes with he price of its own success: overcrowding, garbage, water pollution and even flooding.
These problems were pushed to the forefront last week when President Rodrigo Dutere threatened to close the popular beach destination if its environmental problems are not fixed in six months.
The President minced no words in highlighting what was wrong after the Department of Tourism had found human waste in the water.
“During days when I was there, the waste was just 20 meters away from the beach,” he said. “When you get into the water, it’s smelly. [It] smell[s] of what? S—,” he said.
He said those going to Boracay were destroying the environment and warned that a disaster was coming. There will be a time, he added, when foreigners would stop going to the beach resorts of Boracay.
The urgency in the President’s words is unmistakeable, and rightly so.
As early as 2015, Japanese and Filipino scientists working with the Japan International Cooperation Agency had warned of “imminent loss” if the current situation in Boracay prevails.
A study on Boracay conducted from 2010 to 2015 showed that Boracay’s coral reef ecosystem had been seriously degraded by tourism-related activities.
Satellite images showed that coral cover in Boracay declined by about 70.5 percent for the past 23 years (1988-2011). The highest decrease in coral cover recorded over the 23-year period was between 2008 and 2011 as tourist arrivals rose by 38.4 percent.
Unmonitored snorkeling and diving in coral-rich areas have contributed to damage sustained by corals, the study said.
At the same time, the water quality in the eastern part of Boracay beach was described as alarming, making it unsafe for swimming and other human activities. Direct discharge of untreated waste water near the shore brings about poor water quality level that results in frequent algal blooms and coral reef deterioration, the scientists said.
“It’s very crucial that the sustainability of Boracay’s environment will not be exchanged for short-term economic gains,” said Ariel Blanco, a Filipino scientist working on Jica’s Coastal Ecosystem Conservation and Adaptive Management project.
“Tourism is an important economic driver in the Philippines,” said Jica senior representative Takahiro Morita. “By protecting marine resources, we are also helping sustain the tourism industry, and jobs creation in the country.”
This is a sound approach to developing the tourism industry that must be incorporated in strict environmental regulations moving forward. Jurisdictional disagreements must be resolved in favor of preserving and protecting the environment at all times. Clearly, the time for laissez-faire development and free-for-all competition is over. It is time to bring some order and sanity—let’s call it planned development—back to the island before it chokes on its own “success.”