Closure of Boracay Island

Pouplar tourist destiantion closes for 6 months to let "cesspool" beaches recover

Beth Alexander


Boracay's Tourism Boom

With tourism growing exponentially and far flung exotic destinations becoming easily accessible, it’s hard to see the devastating impact tourists can have on an area. As you pose for the perfect instagram photo in a once secluded waterfall or pristine white sandy beach you struggle to crop out the other hundreds of tourist bombarding the same spot. But exactly what impact on the environment are tourists having? And is it even possible to control tourism for the sake of the environment in such a monetary driven society?

Well one place that seems to believe they have the answer is Boracay Island in the Philippines. They have taken the drastic decision to close its doors to tourism for at least 6 months in a bid to clean up the island and protect it for the future. This decision came about when the president of the Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte, visited the island and became concerned that the famous white sand beaches and crystal clear waters had been transformed into a “cesspool” due to sustained environmental damage.

Boracay Island is one of over 7,000 islands in the Philippines and people first began visiting it in the 1980s. Since then, tourism has significantly increased with almost 1.7 million people visiting last year, and with such an influx of people it has struggled to maintain its idyllic allure.

One of the main problems generated from the tourism boom is unregulated development and pipes carrying raw sewage into the sea. It is even quoted in the Lonely Planet travel guide stating... 

“Waste management is a massive problem … and environmental regulations are poorly enforced.” 

It was found that the majority of business properties had no discharge permit and were presumably draining waste water directly into the sea. As people wanted to cash in on the rising tourism boom, rules and regulations went out of the window and many locals were severely undercut by outsiders.

Many other problems were generated through tourism, one of which being illegal fishing, which has decimated up to 90% of the islands coral reefs. Tropical storms have also caused severe flooding and erosion, as natural wetlands and marshes that had previously helped with storms are no longer effective as they have been drained and built upon. The islands indigenous residents have been marginalised impoverished and discriminated against and have been forced to move from their island and resettle elsewhere.

‍Photo: Charles Deluvio

A simple solution?

With such devastating environmental impacts caused by tourism it may seem that closing the island for 6 months is an amazing solution and would be welcomed with open arms, however this is not the case. The decision jeopardises the livelihood of over 19,000 workers that are employed as part of the tourism trade. They could lose everything that they own and the Philippine economy could also lose up to $1 billion in revenue. The government is expected to impose strict environmental laws which could result in large parts of the tourism infrastructure being demolished, particularly the large beachfront hotels.

There are great implications to closing Boracay Island but the positive impacts of a closure far outweigh the negatives. This closure will allow rules and regulations to be enforced and a successful clean up procedure to be put in place. It will combat overcrowding and overdevelopment allowing for the restoration of its natural beauty. This will enable a greater coastal protection area meaning that flooding and erosion will begin to decrease. Litter and pollution will be cleared away and the white sandy beaches will be restored. This also means that the coral reefs will be untouched for 6 months allowing some recovery time and for fish stocks to repopulate again. The island can have time to heal and breathe some life back into itself. It can begin to restore itself back to its once luscious pristine tropical paradise and remain that way for the future.

In conclusion it’s easy to see that the decision to close Boracay Island for 6months was an extremely difficult one and to enforce such strict rules and regulations onto such a tiny island has made the Philippino president an unpopular guy. But what he has done is shown that he cares about his country and that he wants to protect it for the future. The monetary loss in tourism doesn’t compare to the potential environmental loss that could have happened if Boracay wasn’t closed down. The president's spokesman Harry Roque said: 

"Boracay is known as a paradise in our nation and this temporary closure is (meant) to ensure that the next generations will also experience that."

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