Heavy Police Presence to Close Idyllic Philippine Island Under Ecological Strain

A government shutdown takes effect to scrub Boracay clean of sewage and curb overdevelopment

The last tourists on the popular Philippines tropical island of Boracay were told to pack their swimsuits and leave Thursday as a government shutdown took effect to scrub the paradise clean of sewage and curb overdevelopment.

More than 600 members of the security forces, including the police and coast guard, will patrol Boracay to enforce the closure ordered by President Rodrigo Duterte, who has described the island as a “cesspool.” There were no estimates on the number of remaining tourists, but arrivals have been slowing after weeks of warnings and flight cancellations.

Around two million tourists flock to the white sandy beaches each year, but the government says uncontrolled development and pollution from sewage pipes that lead straight into the sea is destroying the environment and making it unsafe to swim.

Damage from tourism to Southeast Asia’s tropical islands has prompted other governments to take similar action. Last month, Thailand said it would close Maya Bay on Phi Phi Leh, the setting for the Leonardo DiCaprio movie “The Beach,” for four months a year.

A boom in Chinese visitors and proliferation of cheap flights has added to the strain of throngs of visitors from Europe, the U.S. and other places to islands that have failed to constrain illegal construction and build adequate infrastructure.

During the closure, authorities will work on a broken sewage system, dismantle illegal properties too close to the beach and clean the damage from decades of tourism. The government says it will compensate workers, but not “wealthy resort owners,” for loss of income.

Local business groups have raced to begin the cleanup in the hope of a shorter shutdown. The Boracay Foundation, which represents a group of restaurants, hotels and other businesses,  says 36,000 people could be affected by the loss of income. The government estimates the number at 20,000 once migrant and informal laborers leave. The island will remain open only to local residents holding government-issued identity cards.

Source: WSJ

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