How to help sustain Boracay
It’s good that President Duterte has intervened to save Boracay from its own success by decisively declaring its six-month closure. As the Spaniards would say, “A grandes males, grandes remedios.” I commend the rehabilitation team in addressing first the infrastructural and environmental malaise of Boracay — i.e., in setting up efficient sewerage, drainage and solid waste disposal systems, clearing the 30-meter easement of illegal structures, and widening the transport routes around the island. The last time I was there, I was irked by the sight of shanties lining the stinking road that is hardly in keeping with the supposedly world-class quality of tourism on the island.
I compared the existing land use map and the proposed land use plan of the island, and it’s good that the small wetlands and mangrove forests have been preserved in the plan. What worries me is that the ecological equilibrium may have already been compromised by land banking activities: In the plan, virgin forest lands have been preempted for commercial tourism in the north and for residential uses in the south. The existing land uses of a decade ago should have been a good mix, but greed has drastically reduced the forest lands that could have served to mitigate flooding in the lowlands, not to mention the myriad amenities they provide.
As to the plan of the Department of Agriculture to farm some lands, this would not be in keeping with the principle of highest and best use that is appropriate for the island. Also, the planned establishment of a casino would really be incongruous in an island resort whose image should be the pursuit of clean fun and the enjoyment of its beautiful beaches.
But the question that lingers in the mind is the greater influx of tourists who will later be attracted by a cleaner and more orderly Boracay. This is where the concept of carrying capacity comes in and where the expertise of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources’ Ecosystems Research and Development Bureau is needed. This bureau should be put on board the rehabilitation team to propose physical, ecological, social and economic carrying capacities for Boracay. It has done this already in Bohol, for the protection of the marine megafauna species on Pamilacan Island, as well as in Palawan, where it has set limits on visitors, boats, activities, seasons, etc. involving the Puerto Princesa Subterranean Natural Park. The last time I was there, I was a witness to the strict observance of these carrying capacities.
For Boracay, a no-nonsense tourism czar from the national government would be needed for the herculean task of implementing carrying capacities.
However, as a way of easing the implementation of carrying capacities in Boracay and ensuring its sustainability, it would help greatly if a tourism circuit could be planned to include attractive sites nearby. Carabao Island, which has white beaches around it, can be planned as a major alternative destination with a more quiet ambiance. Binukot Beach on Tablas Island also beckons with its white sands and beautiful sunsets. In fact, it is observed that many expatriates doing business in Boracay actually live in Tablas and just commute via speedboat to Caticlan. Also close by is Romblon Island, with its gleaming marble quarries and souvenirs, and Cobrador Island, which is surrounded by unspoiled white beaches. Lying pristine to the east is Sibuyan Island, which is known as the “Galapagos of Asia” with its unique flora and fauna, and where one can trek on its famous Mount Guiting-Guiting.
All of these sites are accessible from Caticlan by ferry or speedboat. Instead of staying in Boracay, tourists can base themselves on these laid-back places and just commute to Boracay to vary their tourism experience. The rehabilitation strategists should consider these pressure relievers on Boracay and also think of spreading tourism development to a nearby region.
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Meliton B. Juanico, a retired professor of geography at the University of the Philippines Diliman, is a licensed environmental planner and is active in consultancy work in urban and regional planning.
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