30 October 2018:
By Caroline McGuire
BOATLOADS of tourists have finally started returning to an island paradise locked up for six months.
Officials reopened Boracay Island in the Philippines to visitors after a shutdown to clean waters President Rodrigo Duterte had called a “cesspool” due to years of overcrowding, partying and neglect, The Sun reported.
And now, officials have imposed new rules to regulate the influx of visitors and beach parties, decongest resorts and prevent sewage from being discharged directly into the turquoise waters.
Only a portion of Boracay’s hotels and other businesses have reopened under the new rules, and a fraction of the more than 20,000 workers who lost their jobs have been rehired.
“Let us treat the island as our home. Keep it clean and pristine. Don’t drink alcohol or smoke in the beach, don’t litter,” Tourism Secretary Berna Romulo-Puyat said in a message to tourists.
Cabinet officials and local celebrities attended a ceremony to mark Boracay’s “soft opening” on a white-sand beach near a port where ferries unloaded tourists.
German tourist Lora Hoerhammer, among the first foreign visitors to set foot on the spruced-up island, backed the six-month closure.
“That is a good thing to really close the whole environment so that nature can rest for a second and people can clean up everywhere,” the 27-year-old said.
“Everybody will be able to come back and feel … that it’s a better place for everybody.”
Visitors will be kept to about 6000 daily and, in an unusual move, they will be asked to sign an oath to follow the new rules, including proper waste disposal and a ban on liquor, smoking, bonfires and wild partying on the beach, officials said.
Only 157 of Boracay’s hundreds of hotels, inns, restaurants and souvenir shops have reopened after complying with the regulations, including connecting to authorised sewer pipes and maintaining a 30m distance from the ocean.
Gil delos Santos, whose family owns a 10-room inn called Roy’s Rendezvous, a travel agency and passenger ferries, welcomed Boracay’s reopening.
“The weather is good and the water is so clear. This is the best way to welcome a better Boracay — it’s like Boracay got a reboot,” he said.
Just two years ago, Boracay was voted the world’s best island.
But in February, Mr Duterte ordered Boracay shut for rehabilitation and said the waste being discharged into the sea had made its waters a “cesspool”.
During the closure, authorities discovered a hidden sewage pipe discharging waste directly into the coastal waters and two hotels built on restricted wetlands.
Some resorts were demolished because they had encroached into a no-build area fronting the sea — one of many violations that had been unchecked for years.
A mayor was suspended and 16 other officials faced complaints of neglect of duty over Boracay’s deterioration.
More than two million tourists visited Boracay last year to enjoy its powdery beaches, spectacular sunsets and festive night-life, but the influx and neglect threatened to turn the paradise into a “dead island” in less than a decade, according to a government study.
Other Philippine beach resorts and tourist destinations believed to have breached environmental and safety regulations for years have also been warned of possible closures.