More than six months ago, the Philippines controversial strongman President, Rodrigo “The Punisher” Duterte, walked the shores of Boracay, the most popular island for tourists in the nation, but dismissed publically as “a cesspool.” He subsequently ordered the island shut down entirely to all tourists and non-residents until the environmental concerns were eradicated.
True to his word, Duterte ordered the shutdown of the island voted #1 in the world, cutting off 1.7 million tourists and visitors from stepping foot on Boracay for a period of six months.
The chief problem, aside from the incessant trash and nonsense that comes with 100,000 people partying on the beach at once, was the sewage. Without a proper sewage collection and treatment system, the hotels and establishments were just piping their raw sewage out into the water or under the sand, which went into the water. Nasty!
In fact, a governmental survey of the island and its sewage managaement right before the closure found that 716 of the island’s 834 residential and business properties had no sewage discharge permit at all, which means most of them were dumping their sewage illegally.
Once they started ripping up the ground and unearthing what was going on beneath, they even found illegal pipes rigged by several hotels and even luxury resorts (cough cough, Hennan Regency Resort).
In the ensuing months, there has been plenty of criticism, skepticism, in-fighting, conspiracies, dead bodies found (rumored), and environmental logistics, but Boracay is finally open for business again, sort of.
Here is a rundown of what’s going on at the most beautiful island in the world:
As of late October 2018, the island is open for tourism again BUT…
Only a certain number of hotels, resorts, and hostels that have earned an environmental clearance can reopen, which is a fraction of the island’s approximately 500+ establishments.
Of course, the hotels had to prove that they adequately addressed the sewage problem.
Additionally, the local government is only allowing in 6,000 tourists per day, when there used to be nearly 20,000 swarming the shores each day, overcrowding the infrastructure. However, while limiting the visitors is sound, I don’t know if there is a system in place to account for how long they stay?
The standard mode of transportation on the island used to be trikes, which is a motorcycle with a sidecar, often causing a lot of noise and pollution. Now, the government has switched transportation for the tourism trade to e-trikes and e-jeepneys (electric vehicles) which run cleaner and quietly.
The 6 km span of White Beach used to be lined with bars, tables and chairs where people hung out to eat, drink, and party, as well as the beach packed with people imbibing during festivals and holidays. No more, as there is no drinking on the beach.
No dogs on the beach.
Dogs and other animals are also not allowed on the beach, which is a real bummer for people who just wanted to take Fido for a run or throw a frisbee.
Watersports are regulated.
You know any tourist spot has lost its luster and is turning into a cheap spring break drunkfest when the jet skis come in, and the constant and sometimes aggressive jet ski, paddle board, and sunset cruise vendors were a major pain in the ass. Now, there sill will be watersports, only they are prohibited within 100 meters of the shoreline, and vendors will be better regulated.
In a great move, single-use plastics like straws, cups, and bags are also banned from use by island restaurants and shops, which will really help curb the amount of litter that was ending up on the ocean.
Don’t bet on a casino
For a couple of years, the controversy that was hotter than the midday sun on Boracay was about the development of a mega-casino complex on the island, which would mainly be aimed at attracting armies of Chinese and Korean tourists. Instead, Duterte ensured that there would be no casino at all built on Boracay, shutting down that noise for good.
There were more and more local vendors setting up little makeshift barbecues and cooking right on the beach recently, which did create some extra traffic and a whole lot of smoke of roasting meat. Now, they are shunned from barbecuing anywhere on the beach.
Fireworks are early
You can still shoot off fireworks on Boracay (I’m not sure if that requires some sort of permit?) but the curfew is 9 pm for pyrotechnics. So, there is a small window between when it gets dark and when you have to put the fireworks away. I also don’t know if this applies to the fire dancers, which was a popular show at bars and restaurants on the beach.
Keep it off the beach
Umbrellas, deck chairs, and beach beds are also banned from the beach to keep it pristine, and any littering or polluting will be met with a stiff fine.
Like a castle made of sand
In the Boracay of old, there were a handful of places up and down the beach where local kids put in hours of work every day to build huge sandcastles and sand structures, including with the name ‘Boracay’ carved into the sand, with the date. You could even pay them to make a custom sand castle with whatever wording you requested. It was perfect for picture taking for tourists and not hurting anyone or damaging the environment in any way. Sadly, you are no longer allowed.
There are more regulations and rules, but this is the gist of them. Will these changes really rehabilitate Boracay’s ecosystem? The early returns are good, and the much-maligned Duterte may have hit the nail on the head with his unilateral shutdown and mandates.
There is still plenty of work to be done, as the island’s interior roadway system is still a complete mess, but the tourists have started to come back to the new and improved Boracay to find a pristine beach once again and very clean, swimmable water.