Boracay: Party central cleans up its act

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If the Philippines were to have Spring Break—that period of every college student’s life devoted purely to the pursuit of hedonistic pleasures—the destination of choice would have to be Boracay. Famed not only for its powder-white beaches, its blazing-red sunsets, and its wide array of accommodations to fit every budget, Boracay is, above all else, the Philippines’ Party Capital. Here you will find yourself dancing to the nonstop beat of its heart-pumping music, the blaze of its hot fire dancers, and, yes, the beckoning of its bevy of bikini-clad bodies.

However, there is a side of Boracay that is often taken for granted in the rush of all this commercialization. Once upon a time, Boracay was a little-known island, populated only by all-natural greens, blues, and whites, and by those who knew and loved Boracay because, to them, this was home. Today, decades later and confronted by challenges of sustainability and ecological management, Boracay finds itself needing to strip down to its core to see what it really needs to thrive and survive. We hop around the island with fresh eyes, looking for traces of that onceupon- a-time pristine beauty that has made everyone fall in love with Boracay in the first place.

We started our full-blown tour with a speedboat trip around Boracay Island, where we saw evident traces of the island’s overuse alongside proud structures boasting the resort’s stature as a preferred summer destination. After a gluttonous lunch at Aria in D’Mall—where we sampled Insalata di Cocomero, Rucola e Pinoli (organic arugula with fresh watermelon, feta cheese and pine nuts in a balsamic vinaigrette dressing); Pizza al Metro Giant Trio Pizza; and Fettuccine Nere in Crema di Mare (homemade black fettuccine with a creamy seafood sauce; among many other delectable complements to the truly Italian meal (and had more than enough food and leftovers to feed an entire family!)—we met Alex Magno from the office of Malay Mayor John Yap, and Mike Labatiao, Chairman of Environment from Boracay Foundation, Inc.

Anchors, away!

Mike, a PADI Master Instructor, dove deep into his thoughts on Boracay’s corals. “When I first arrived here in 1994, I was wowed”. However, times have changed and Mike then shared the state of the island’s corals and the main culprits for their destruction— among them, climate change and other man-made factors such as boat anchors.

The solution? “We molded sinkers, almost one thousand five hundred concrete sinkers which would act as anchors for boats… You simply approach that buoy, pick up the line, and tie it to your boat. You’re secured. No need to drop an anchor,” Mike pointed out. Sink molding has been a project of the Boracay Foundation and the Malay local government for around a year now.

Aside from that, their partnership also engages in the creation of biorocks and reef bowls, which uses “very minimal current to speed up the growth of the calcium” that’s needed to facilitate the growth of more corals. Together with the Diving Association, this growing consortium has been running the biorocks project for around seven years now. According to Mike, who has been a diving instructor for almost 30 years, says “Give it five years, coral will be restored as long as there’s no [human] intervention.”

Creative solutions

Back on dry land, we were taken to the Materials Recovery Facility (MRF) in barangay Balabag, where waste is not only disposed of, but also recycled. The main office sells beads, necklaces and other products made from old calendars, magazines, and cigarette packs (a gold rosary is made from a Marlboro cigarette pack), charcoal briquettes made from bamboo poles and niyog (coconut) shells, and many others that help in reducing waste disposal. The MRF is one sustainable solution to the problem of solid waste management for not just barangay Balabag, but also for the entire island of Boracay, as most of Boracay resorts are concentrated here. The MRF was named the second most outstanding facility of its kind in the entire country and the best MRF in Western Visayas (Region 6).

Seaweed, carton, and newspaper in capable hands are turned into artwork, another form of recycling. These are put on display and for sale at the Hang Loose Tattoo Parlor along Bulabog Road in Sitio Bulabog, the area where we went for the speedboats.

Dionisio Salme, the incoming president of the Boracay Beach Management Program (BBMP) and a Board Director of the Boracay Foundation, was there to shed light on more environmental issues.

The BBMP was launched in September 2010 and runs an anti-littering campaign, an anti-smoking campaign, water and wastewater management, solid waste management, and coastal management. “It was actually a very welcome program, which seems to be successful although there was some resistance because some people do like to smoke in the beach,” Dionisio points out. “But then they realized that it was really very important and almost everyone has been complying. And they’re happy with what they see. People were always complaining about the beach having many cigarettes and litter; now they say that the cleaner beach is better. The new administration, the local government, and private sector cooperate with the beach management program. And we still enjoy the support of the stakeholders in the private sector.”

Beach erosion is another issue of the island, and it has been addressed by disallowing concrete structures “outside from twenty to twenty-five meters from the beach—although there are still structures there that have been there a long time.” The local government has also had to disallow the building of sand castles on the beach, as well as the use of Boracay sand in souvenirs, to keep the island’s stand intact.

“There are stories that sand is being brought inland for decoration. This is now being guarded by the LG and is no longer allowed. The important thing is that it’s not removed. Sand being carried away by the waters are eventually brought back. This is a natural flow. It should be left alone, taken away naturally by the waves so that it is returned naturally. Actually the Petron Foundation, Boracay Foundation, and the LG through BBMP get experts who have study and scientific measures to prevent beach erosions. So we’re waiting for technical persons and scientists being sent here for studies and steps that should be done to preserve the beach here in the island of Boracay and the LG is very supportive on that.”

Dionisio adds that another solution is to limit human activities such as aqua sports to protect the ocean’s resources so that coral reefs, sea grass, and seaweeds and other life could grow. Coral reefs offer one of the best natural defenses against beach erosion by decelerating the speed of waves, while sea grass and seaweeds play a vital role in making fine sand.

For its efforts at restoring Boracay’s environmental sustainability, Barangay Balabag was recognized by the Department of Health in 2011 as the second best in the National Search for Barangay with Best Sanitation Practices (NSBBSP). The victory won additional funds for the sustainable sanitation programs in the amount of P150,000 for the regional and P150,000 for the national level.

As for waste water management, a world-class Sewage Treatment Plant (STP) was inaugurated by the Boracay Island Water Company (BIWC) last month. It is designed to safely treat used water and wastewater before it is released to the Bolabog beach through a discharge line 800 meters away from the shoreline. It has been operating within a year, reversing Boracay’s previously non-compliant effluent(sewage that has been treated in a septic tank or sewage treatment plant.) The upgraded STP increased its capacity to 250%; previously capable of treating 2,600 cubic meters of wastewater per day, its present capacity is now 6,500 cubic meters of wastewater per day. But this number will be increased to 11,000 cubic meters of wastewater per day by 2018 in anticipation of the growing number of tourists and local migration.

The success of BBMP’s anti-littering and anti-smoking campaigns has been very encouraging as the LG plans to expand these campaigns inland. A majority of well-travelled tourists now say that White Beach’s cleanliness is comparable with any other beach worldwide. As for the solid waste management program, new staff will be hired as well as the addition of new equipment at the MRF in Balabag. With new facilities and equipment, cooperation from the private sector and the LG, these will definitely ensure the sustainability of Boracay to be one of the Philippines’ best beaches for many years to come.

Catching up with Malay, Aklan mayor, Honorable John Yap, on running a municipality and one of the world’s most renowned beaches

To many, running Malay, Aklan, which includes the summer haven tof Boracay, is an enviable job. What does running Boracay really entail on a governance level? What challenges do you now face as Mayor of Malay, and how do you intend to address these?

For the past ten (10) years, I have devoted the best years of my life for Malay and for Boracay, first when I was a Sangguniang Bayan member and later as Vice Mayor. Now that I am Malay Mayor, I think that it is only continuing my work, of actively pursuing my vision for the town and the island of Boracay. The early years were policy-making; today, it is putting into action my advocacies and vision. The biggest challenge of being Mayor is translating the collective dream of Malaynons into reality – sustainable tourist development, inclusive progress that benefit as many Malaynons as possible and leaving a legacy to the next generation that we have transformed Boracay as a world class tourist island.

Boracay has been cited time and again as one of the world’s best beaches. What does it take to maintain this reputation? How has your administration beefed up efforts for environmental protection, security, and overall development?

Boracay can only remain as one of the world’s best beaches if everyone commits to keeping its reputation. Meaning, all stakeholders must get involved in maintaining and enhancing the ecological sustainability of the Island. In practical terms, this means, we keep garbage and disposing our wastes properly in the Island, preserve the corals and the white beach, observe environmental policies already laid down, and working towards enhancing the attractiveness of the island to future tourists.

Let’s talk about YOUR Boracay—the Boracay that you know and love. What do you know about Boracay that very few people know about? What do you hope more tourists from all over the world would see, experience, and understand about Boracay beyond White Beach and the photos that we see?

I grew up here. Spent the best years of my young and adult life here. My family is based here. So I can say that the Island is like an umbilical cord to me. I cannot turn back the hands of time but I yearn for those years when the Island was lit up by lamps and bamboo torches. When resorts and establishments have nipa roofs and bamboo floors. When you could just lie down in Puka Beach and marvel at the beauty of the beach and the shells you find. When we would wander the entire length of the beach on barefoot and not step on any foreign object. When there was so much silence in the island and all you could hear are the rustling leaves on tree branches. When you will never hear of planes taking off and landing. This is the Boracay of my youth but I have to accept the reality that when we open and accept tourists from all over the world, we would no longer have those quiet days

Would you share with us your Top 3 memorable spots and moments in Boracay? What makes these places and moments extremely special?

One is the Puka Beach and its attractions. I spent so many hours swimming in the area during school breaks and gathering seashells where people today no longer can get their hands on. Two is the Bolabog Beach. We flew multi-colored kites there then and it was pure heaven to see kites up in the sky. Three, the White Beach. I always enjoyed watching the sunset, its uniqueness everyday never fail, its beauty, the different colors in the sky is always breath-taking as it is, even today. Its pure and refined white sand like sugar and the crystal clear waters of the wide and long beach amaze me with wonder with these God-given blessings to the Island.

Beyond the fame that Boracay already has, what else do you envision for this island getaway? What do you hope to be your legacy in governing the island?

Right now, I am working with my people with the support of the different stakeholders, private organizations or groups that are most serious about the ecological sustainability of the Island. Beyond the beaches and the water sports and the fabulous night life, I want to a leave a legacy to the next generation that we cared so much for the environment. And so we are now working on this forest conservation project that would provide eco-tourism activities to all tourists visiting the island. This project will complement the beach activities and night life and teach people to care for Mother Nature. If this project pushes through, we will have forest-trekking, zip line activities and camping right in the middle of a very lush and green forest accessible from the Island.

How does the local government work with business owners and even visitors to ensure that Boracay’s pollution problems are addressed and reversed? How do publicprivate partnerships come into play in promoting tourism, ecological balance, and sustainability?

When we launched the Boracay Beach Management Program (BBMP) last year, it was considered one of the events that saw the active participation of the business sector in the Island. I have committed during the campaign that my administration would actively engage the business sector in conceptualizing and implementing programs and projects for the island. And our success rate in this area is encouraging. We have implemented the Anti-Littering and Anti-Smoking Ordinances and resorts and establishments have done their part in making sure the programs succeed. I am encouraged with the enthusiasm and support of the private sector to our local government activities and we are working towards institutionalizing these. Some in the private sector even volunteered as one-peso a year consultants helping me reach out to many stakeholders and I hope these are sustained over the long term.

Is there anything new brewing in Boracay that you’d like to share with our readers? What gets you excited about the Boracay of the future?

We have succeeded in the anti-littering and anti-smoking campaigns. We’re now addressing zoning rules by following the provisions of the law, where the affected establishments are given enough time to follow or face drastic actions, to such extent that illegal structures are taken out. We are bent on exercising political will in making sure that nobody is above the law.

What, for you, is THE perfect beach holiday? Where do YOU go to get away and have a great time with family and friends? And what do you consider before choosing a location for your own getaway?

For the family, an ideal perfect beach holiday is one characterized by bondinglazing together on beaches, sharing meals together, spending quiet nights free from intruding noise and wholesome fun that involves each member of the family. For honeymooners, a perfect beach holiday is one where they are given privacy and treated like royalty by the resort. For foreign tourists, a perfect beach holiday should be hassle free, spent in peace and unhampered by irritants man-made or otherwise.

Last question: Why do you think should vacationers choose Boracay over any other beach destination in Southeast Asia?

Boracay is an EXPERIENCE. It is an EXPERIENCE like no other beach destination in the world. EXPERIENCE include hopping on an island that boasts of white sand beaches, sparkling waters, great quality service from resort and its personnel, fun activities and first class sights. All these Boracay can offer every vacationer.

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