The Philippines government will be closing its most famous holiday island Boracay to tourists for six months in order to clean it up after concerns that rapid development and pollution was threatening its idyllic shores.
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has ordered the shutdown to start on April 26, the president’s spokesman Harry Roque said on Wednesday.
The island, whose revenue makes up 20 percent of country’s total tourism industry, will be off-limits to visitors during the clean-up.
“Boracay is known as paradise in our nation and this temporary closure is meant to ensure that the next generations will also experience that,” Roque told reporters.
The closure, however, will affect at least 15,000 workers on the island, said Al Jazeera’s Jamela Alindogan who was reporting from the capital Manila.
“Additionally, there’s no assurance that there will still be a job or a business to return to six months from now,” she said.
“Several environmentalists praise Duterte’s actions, saying that what they want right now is to ensure the issue of sustainability is at the forefront of the discussion when it comes to environmental concerns,” she added.
Boracay became a popular tourist destination in 2010 and has since then landed on the covers and lists of travel magazines. Almost two million tourists visited the island in 2017.
The tourism boom on Boracay brought jobs and investment but strained the island’s water and rubbish disposal systems and its sewer system.
In a survey of the island’s sewerage facilities carried out in February this year, the vast majority of residential and business properties – 716 out of 834 – were found to have no discharge permit and were presumably draining waste water directly into the sea, according to a report by the official Philippines News Agency.
Following a visit to the island in February, President Duterte said Boracay must be cleaned up after he was said to have been outraged by “environmental violations” that have left the island a “cesspool”.
“As long as there is s*** coming out of those pipes, I will never give you the time of the day to return to the island,” Duterte said.
Photos and a video of a drainage pipe in Bolabog Beach, one of the tourist spots on Boracay Island, was circulated online earlier this year and showed how dirty water from the pipe made its way into the sea.
The island is home to around 500 tourism-related businesses, which drew in annual revenue of $1.07bn in 2017.
Boracay’s Chamber of Commerce and Industry requested Duterte to reconsider the closure, arguing that not all businesses were violators and that only those found to be polluting should be shut down.
Boracay’s population is approximately 40,000, most of whom are dependent on tourism and were struggling to make the ends meet even before Duterte’s order.
Due to the closure, more than 36,000 jobs will be affected and losses stand to be around $1bn, according to data provided by Boracay Foundation Inc, a business association on the island.
Another 19,000 workers – such as beach masseuses, tattoo artists and vendors – would be affected by the temporary closure.