If you live in the U.S., Canada, or even Europe, your newsfeed and newspaper headlines are probably filled with talk of Facebook privacy, trade wars, border disputes, and, always Trump. But there’s another news story that’s jumping off the page (and the screen) here in the Philippines that’s extremely noteworthy, whether or not you’re a tourist or traveler who plans on visiting the Philippines.
In case you haven’t heard, as of April 26, the island of Boracay will be closed.
It’s all thanks to a mandate from the controversial and never boring President Rodrigo Duterte, who ordered the whole island be shut down immediately based on environmental and conversation concerns. Well, “The Punisher” (as President Duterete is often called) didn’t say it with so much tact and sensitivity.
Actually, upon visiting the island a couple of months ago and seeing the dirtied beaches, sewage issues, polluted water, and other issues, called the island “A cesspool” and ordered it shut down for a period of six months, in which the hotels, resorts, restaurants, etc. are instructed to fix these environmental concerns.
Yes, the whole island will be completely shut down and off limits to any tourists, whether foreign or domestic. There literally will be police and military pat rolling the port – the island’s only access port, as well as the ferry terminal on Aklan, the larger neighboring island where the two international airports accommodate visitors to Boracay.
For a little context, last year, Boracay attracted more than 2 million visitors from all over the world, but especially Filipinos (of course), Chinese (about 300k+), South Koreans (300k+) and then, Europeans, Americans, etc.
That’s a hell of a lot of people – and an insane amount of money (probably tens of millions of dollars in revenue every year) for a small island that measures about 5 miles by 10 miles.
Boracay used to be a literal paradise on earth with its 3 mile stretch of perfect white sand as soft and fine as talcum powder (White Beach). I was there first in 1999 and it was still every tropical and rustic, with only a few guesthouses mixed in with a fishing community, no aircon, and no structures over two stories.
I even lived there in 2013 for the winter, and while it was rapidly becoming developed with modern hotels, resorts, shops, an outdoor mall, bars, nightclubs and hundreds of restaurants, it was still a paradise. The beach was undisturbed, still the nicest white sand and perfectly clear turquoise water I’ve ever seen. There wasn’t a cigarette butt, a bottle, or a plastic bag to be found anywhere on the beach. It was also so safe that you could walk around anywhere, any time of night, or even sleep on the beach.
However, I’ve visited a couple of times over the last couple years, and it’s getting trashed. People are going to party and trample the nature a lot more than observe and respect it. The sheer number of tourists means that their sewage is release right into the water, causing huge fields of seaweed and other strange organism growing in the once clear water. Trash is washing up everywhere and the white powder is more like a compacted gray sand now.
So, while it’s completely alarming that Duterte would just wave his Presidential wand and shut down the whole island, I also applaud his motives for doing so – to fix the environmental problems, hold these businesses accountable, and reset the island so it can find a balance between tourism dollars and preserving nature.
As far as I know, this is completely unprecedented, and no one truly knows how the Boracay drama will play out!