By Ana Maria Lykes
THERE was once was a fair maiden who lived on the edge of Panay Island. She was so pure that sea creatures fearlessly sunbathed on her bosom. Her eyes were so pristinely blue that mystical fishes swam in them. Then came enterprisers and explorers, plundering her bounty and beauty. More and more of them came, crowding her and driving away the wondrous creatures. Her sighs are drowned out by loud chatter and merriment.
Will we ever hear Boracay’s song again?
“She’s sinking,” laments a local as bikini bunnies with henna tattoos and hair braids chitter past. These women aren’t the only ones overwhelming Boracay. Last year over 1.36 million tourists have trampled her white sands, leaving trash and destruction. Then there’s the mushrooming of establishments pushing too close to her shores. McDonald’s and Starbucks sit as shamelessly as the scantily-clad sunbathers on the beach. Construction is limited with a 25-meter setback, but many structures are sitting happily by the water.
“If more and more establishments are put up here, there will be no more open spaces left. We will lose Boracay,” airs Glenn Sacapaño to the Philippine Daily Inquirer. The Task Force Redevelopment head and Island Administrator complains about the fast-paced and almost mindless development. The continuous expansion in Boracay doesn’t follow any urban planning and now narrow roadways and lack of parking are also troubling the island.
Overdevelopment is not the only thing that the island is facing. The country’s pride is postcard pretty, but what many do not see is the dirt that she hides. Boracay is overcome by trash and flooding. According to reports, the sewage system is constantly clogged and even on some sunny days, the poorly built roadways are flooded. On the seafloor, irresponsible fishermen and thoughtless tourists leave a boneyard of coral reef stumps at their wake.
And while many marvel at her skirt of gloriously white sands, they are unaware that she is quickly eroding due to climate change, reckless constructions, and irresponsible tourism. The erosion is so severe in certain parts of the island that sewage pipes have been exposed.
Eventually this can lead to even more serious problems as leakage can gravely contaminate the island’s water. Acute gastroenteritis is already becoming one of the leading illnesses of Boracay due to water contamination.
She mourns her denuded shoreline, cleared of her beloved coconut and palm trees. Overhead, fruit bats are skittering nervously, facing extinction due to the frenzied noise from the nonstop parties and construction.
Amidst all the noise, there are a handful who hears her call. Reaching out a helping hand, the President had mandated a redevelopment plan for the island. The Presidential Task Force, composed of representatives from the Department of Tourism, Department of Justice, Department of Environmental and Natural Resources, and Department of Interior and Local Government, in cooperation with the local government unit of Malay town and the Department of Public Works and Highways, is enforcing the demolition of illegal structures that do not comply within the 30-meter easement regulation or do not have Environmental Certificates of Compliance. About 300 illegal structures, including seawalls and embankments, are expected to be closed down and demolished.
The program does not seek to shut down the thriving tourism completely and has reassigned areas for business. Over 123 hectares have been allocated to new investors, spreading the concentration of commercial zones to other areas. A comprehensive land use plan was designed to accommodate at least 2 million more visitors by 2018. New ports and roads will be constructed with the help of the Philippine Tourism Authority and a PhP200-million investment. Manila Water is also working to improve the water and sewerage system.
Aside from government efforts, private organizations are also pitching in. The Sangkalikasan cooperative launched the Code Blue project to revive the island’s coral reef system by planting 5,000 “reefbuds” on Boracay’s ocean floor. Code Blue is said to be the most extensive artificial reef project in the Philippines so far.
This year the non-profit organization Boracay Foundation Inc. launched the Coral Reefurbishment Project to protect and restore coral reefs. It has also launched a mangrove rehabilitation program through massive tree planting. Mangroves help prevent erosion and improve water quality by filtering sediments. The non-profit organization is involved in many programs including environmental forums and regular beach clean ups in their mission to preserve and restore their beloved paradise.
Mangroves grow extremely slow, and it will take years for the coral reef to recover, but even then, Boracay can never go back to its former glory. Back when, according to many wistful locals and the few nostalgic purists who had the privilege of walking on her then uncorrupted shores, there were only a handful of cottages that stood on the beach, illuminated by gas lamps and a thousand stars. This was back in the ‘70s and ‘80s when beautifully dark- skinned Atis, the first settlers in the island, played on her sands truly white as snow.
It was in the 1800s when Aklan locals Lamberto Tirol and Sofia Gonzales discovered the island and cultivated her with coconut trees, tobacco, and marijuana. But the marijuana was for medicinal purposes. Back then the intoxication was to be had from her untainted beauty.
In the ‘70s, Hollywood set foot on the island, shooting Too Late the Hero and opening the doors for foreigners. Before that Boracay was a backpacker’s best guarded secret. Jens Peter, a German writer, also wrote a book introducing the virgin to the world as the most beautiful island in Asia. Before long, people were coming in droves to feast on her.
But just like scarred women, she is beautiful and remains to be one of the world’s most admired jewel. The New York Times may have called her “a tropical convenience store fully stocked with jet skis, resort pools and hangovers”, but many are willing to overlook that because she still maintains corners and curves that allow her children to bask in the blessings of the sun in peace.
She continues to be hailed as one of the most romantic islands in the world and one of the top islands by Travel + Leisure. Not surprisingly, she is also part of the magazine’s top 10 party beaches. Trip Advisor and other travel authorities constantly praise her. But all that acclaim means nothing to her. When the blaring music continues till dawn and the sun paints a rosiness on her horizon, she endures to sing her haunting pleas that only a few could hear.