As many as 80,000 tourists are estimated to have descended on Boracay during the Labor Day weekend. Last year it was over 50,000, with the majority of the visitors flocking to the 4-kilometer sliver of coastline known as White Beach at the western side of the island. There, revelers typically engage in a nonstop whirl of beach parties, water activities, sports events, music concerts and the like. In 2014, Boracay received a staggering 1,472,352 tourists, both local and foreign, a figure higher by 100,000 compared to 2013. But that number even fell short of the official government target, which was 1.5 million tourist arrivals.
At a mere 1,032 hectares, Boracay is fast approaching its saturation point, if it hasn’t already. The green algal bloom that has regularly coated the island’s waters in recent years is back, tarring the pristine pinkish-white sand that has made Boracay justly famous worldwide. Business establishments have blithely dismissed the algae as a seasonal event that occurs naturally, but environmentalists insist it has a more immediate cause: the indiscriminate dumping of sewage and refuse by residents and visitors directly into the waters, resulting in fecal matter and coliform bacteria polluting the very sea in which hordes of people, many of them children and whole families, swim and frolic. The Department of Environment and Natural Resources has concurred with this assessment; according to Secretary Ramon Paje, the algal bloom is the result of “poor waste management, with sewage being dumped into the waters.”
So what has the DENR been doing about it? In February it warned commercial establishments against further polluting the waters by discharging their waste into the sea—a useful reminder, except for the fact that the problem of water pollution in Boracay, like the algae that appears to be its increasingly frequent manifestation, is not a recent phenomenon. Concerned locals and environmentalists alike have long warned about the dangers of pell-mell development on the fragile island, but as tourism has grown, and with it enormous revenues for both the local and national governments (last year’s tourism receipts were a whopping P27 billion), unregulated infrastructure has continued to rise, tourists from all over the world are streaming in unhampered, and everyone is cashing in on the good times while the waters and the beach that have made Boracay one of the world’s paradise destinations is being run to the ground by overcrowding, carelessness and plain mismanagement.
Some 331 resorts currently jostle for prime space on Boracay’s precious coastline; a 2013 list prepared by the DENR indicated that as many as 293 structures were in violation of the requirement that all buildings should be at least 30 meters from the shore, to protect the beach from subsidence and allow for adequate public access. Many establishments have since complied with the easement requirement, but a more urgent problem remains: Not all structures, whether residential or commercial, are connected to the drainage system being operated by the sole sewerage company operating for the entire island. The sewage system is designed to accommodate only the enormous refuse coughed up by Boracay’s toilets on a daily basis; the garbage generated by visitors is another matter. The Department of Tourism estimates that a tourist is bound to produce at least one kilo of trash; multiply that by the 80,000 “Laboracay” revelers alone that had most recently flooded the island, and you get a waste management problem of nightmare proportions.
The Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment, a coalition of at least 40 environmental groups nationwide, is urging the DENR to put a temporary stop to any more development activities on Boracay until the island has had time to breathe and recover. “Aside from mismanagement, Boracay’s environmental problems show that tourism activities have exceeded the capacity of the island’s ecology to rejuvenate itself,” it said.
It’s a sensible suggestion. The alternative—Boracay rapidly going to seed, laid waste by greed and neglect and other wholly avoidable afflictions—is an unacceptable option. Sitio Bulabog at the eastern side of the island has already registered dangerous levels of coliform. If it remains business as usual on Boracay, how long before pollution further spreads to other areas and spells disaster for one of the Philippines’ greatest—and irreplaceable—natural attractions?
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