Boracay's temporary shut down: why we should prioritise sustainable tourism

When you imagine a tropical island, what do you envision? You probably see a deserted, desktop wallpaper-worthy island with sunshine all-year round, mythical sunsets, crystal clear blue waters, fine white sand beaches, lush greenery, and a rich biodiversity.

People are always on the look out for the most pristine and least developed undisclosed island in the tropics and this is what Boracay used to be.

Everyone wants a slice of paradise but at what cost?

Development in this small (approximately 3.98 square miles) island in the Philippine archipelago has gradually increased over the decades. Hundreds of hectares of forested land in the island are supposedly under the protection of the law in lieu of the rise of tourism. Now, a number of infrastructures surfaced and illegal settlers started to flock to the protected areas.

Now, should we talk about the island’s countless waste management issues and its adverse effects on the environment? Although measures have been taken as early as the late 1990’s to install a potable water supply system, a sewage treatment plan, and a solid waste disposal system, it still isn’t enough to address the island’s growing environmental troubles. Excessive algae growth and harmful bacteria continue to thrive in the infamous crystal-clear waters because of waste being irresponsibly dumped directly into the sea. In a study conducted by McKeough Marine Center as early as 2011, surrounding coral reefs have been going through an alarming state of deterioration thus a serious decline in rich biodiversity.

No one is saying that tourism and business is a bad thing. Tourism is a powerful driving force for a developing country’s economy.

Businesses provide productivity and employment to a countless number of citizens. According to the Boracay Foundation, tourism revenues in the island have reached its all time high at 56 billion PHP. There are 430 registered hotels and accommodation and 36,000 workers in both the formal and informal sector. Despite the notable expansion in the island, “progress” is starting to take an irreversible toll on the environment. There is an evident imbalance between the tourism boom and the countermeasures currently implemented. There is obviously an undeniable negligence in the proper implementation of existing laws supposedly maintained by established government institutions and people in power. Are we really willing to put natural beauty at risk to enable the greed of plenty? Boracay is now facing a forthcoming six-month shut down focused on the rehabilitation of the island after Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte described it as a cesspool. The country’s Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) and other corresponding authorities are now facing long overdue pressure to institute rapid and desperate measures to save the island.

Culpability does not rest solely on poor governance and the lack of necessary infrastructure. There is also a need to discuss reckless tourism. Irresponsible tourists and business owners have become a persistent and stubborn variable in this disturbing matter.

Sure, you’re on vacation, you’re trying to have the time of your life, and hakuna matata reins supreme. Waste disposal should be the least of your concerns. But can you imagine lounging on a white sand beach that is littered with garbage? Can you imagine not being able to swim leisurely in blue waters because you start to feel your skin itch? Can you imagine getting a whiff of unpleasant odors as you enjoy a cool breeze? Can you imagine feeling the need to question where the seafood you order comes from? You’re on holiday in a premiere destination for god’s sake. You shouldn’t be trouble-ridden in any way.

But the more someone travels and encounters a wide-range of life changing, eye-opening moments, awareness and consciousness for Mother Nature and local communities ought to develop. As we traverse both old and new destinations, we should start to cultivate some respect for all the beauty that surrounds us. We must make it a point to lower our environmental impact in little ways. As tourists, we unknowingly contribute to environmental problems. Packing a reusable bag and water container will help in reducing plastic waste. Opting for accommodation that concerns itself with its effect to the environment will help you rest better. Choosing to walk or to rent a bicycle is also a good, healthy, and cost-efficient way to see a place. Going on tours that will educate you on the natural resources and local milieu will not only benefit you but will also contribute to the overall well-being of a place. Businesses in any tourist destinations should also be cognizant of its social and environmental responsibilities. As business owners, making sure that your respective establishments are in compliance to the laws imposed will go a long way. Advocating sustainable tourism attracts the right kind of people to your businesses. Reevaluating corporate social responsibilities will develop an atmosphere of good nature in your establishment and amongst your employees.

DENR and other governing bodies are now in the process of strictly developing new methods and practices to competently implement relevant laws dealing with the island’s environmental problems. Governing bodies will be reevaluated. Non-compliant businesses are now facing sanctions in order to conform to the norms of conduct.

Despite the wide-reaching economic setbacks of Boracay’s temporary shutdown, the long-standing benefits and leaps towards sustainability will, hopefully, put the island back on the right track. Six months may not be enough to reverse the irreparable social and ecological damage on the island but it will, at least, make people reflect on the consequences of their actions. It will give the ecosystem a little breathing time from its suffocating corrosion.

Boracay is far from its original grandeur but it still definitely has plenty of inherent beauty left. The islands’ dreamlike quality remains untarnished despite its daunting adversaries. Its ever-evolving character and appeal continue to attract people from all over the world. Boracay is still very much worthy of everyone’s bucket list and if things go as planned, tourists visiting or re-visiting the island can look forward to relishing the long-term benefits of the shutdown.

There’s always a thriving ecosystem on a belligerent fight against an unnatural and insurmountable antagonist. We tend to take for granted the natural splendor that surrounds us. We tend to take, take, take and forget to give even a little. As much as we don’t want to admit it, humanity has a tendency to reap more than what they sow. Do we wait until there is nothing left to save before we take a step back and reflect on our actions? Hopefully, the shutdown in Boracay will serve as a lesson to all that recklessly operate and roam in booming tourist destinations. Why? Because Mother Nature deserves a holiday, too.

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