Tourism pause helps Philippines clean up island paradise

December 3, 2021 - 11:38 AM
A couple enjoys a view of White Beach amid the coranavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Boracay Island, Aklan province, Philippines, November 29, 2021. Picture taken November 29, 2021. (Reuters/Eloisa Lopez)

BORACAY, Philippines — For 23-year-old tour guide Samuel Garilao, the beaches on the popular Philippines island of Boracay have never been cleaner and the water never clearer.

Growing up on Boracay, Garilao is used to seeing the tiny but over-developed island crowded with tourists, and struggling with a waste problem so bad that President Rodrigo Duterte closed it in 2018, calling it a “sewer pool”.

But with the Philippines largely shut off from the outside world due to the coronavirus and with domestic tourism tightly managed, Boracay has had a rare chance to recover.

“When the lockdown started, we saw less trash because there were no tourists coming in. And the local residents of Boracay decided to take this time to unite and clean up the beach front,” Garilao said.

Duterte’s six-month closure of the island had done little to fix Boracay’s problems.

Two million visitors came in 2019, bringing $1 billion in revenue, and a return of garbage pile-ups, rampant land encroachment and thick fumes from constant traffic along its narrow, clogged roads.

Natividad Bernardino, head of Boracay’s rehabilitation program, said the island’s lockdown was a boon for marine life that was dwindling.

“We’ve spotted the return of whale sharks, baby sharks and sea turtles. Some have started nesting on the northern part of Boracay,” she said.

“So these are some positive effects of the lockdowns. The environment is able to regenerate itself naturally.”

Local tourism resumed in October as coronavirus cases declined, but business has yet to pick up. The government back-pedaled on the planned reopening this week for international tourism due to the threat of the Omicron variant. —Reporting by Adrian Portugal and Martin Petty Editing by Gareth Jones

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