International Asia Philippine gov't imposes new tourist rules to save El Nido, Palawan from...

Philippine gov’t imposes new tourist rules to save El Nido, Palawan from Boracay-style closure

Tourism activities at El Nido's most polluted sections will be limited while efforts to clean up the environment are pursued

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On Thursday (August 1), the Philippines announced that El Nido, Palawan, famed for its pristine beaches, turquoise waters and kayak-worthy lagoons and canals, will not be closing down for a Boracay-style clean-up, which took a total of six months to complete. Instead, to combat growing challenges of trash pollution on its beaches and waters, the Philippine government will be imposing new rules to limit tourism activities in affected areas.

El Nido is as gorgeous as its fellow Philippine beach, the famous Boracay. While both beaches have become synonymous with powdery white sand and sparkling blue waters, Boracay got its claim to fame from being the party beach, and El Nido attracted the more adventurous, outdoorsy types who prefer kayaking, cliff jumping and exploring the ocean’s depths.

Photo: El Nido, Palawan, the Philippines/YouTube screen grab

Photo: El Nido, Palawan, the Philippines/YouTube screen grab

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Photo: El Nido, Palawan, the Philippines/YouTube screen grab

The world-class beaches have had another thing in common. Flooded with tourists and locals, the trash and waste pollution problem became insurmountable, at least for Boracay, which was officially shut down by President Duterte in 2018 for a major clean-up that lasted six months.

Boracay was in such a bad state that Duterte even referred to it as a “cesspool”; an appropriate name as some establishments were found flushing raw sewage straight into the ocean.

While the clean-up efforts were astounding and the results returned Boracay to its former pristine glory, thousands of people were left out of work, and the island’s main industry — tourism — suffered greatly during the downtime.

El Nido has been following in the former Boracay’s footsteps — we’re talking mountains of trash on certain beaches as well as floating mounds of garbage that are threatening the wildlife that live in the tropical country’s gorgeous waters.

Instead of being closed down like Boracay, the Philippine government decided to take a different approach with the beach in Palawan, a decision which the local tourism industry is relieved and happy about.

“We are quite happy that there will be no total closure. That means that as long as establishments are compliant, they can continue to operate,” Jose Clemente of the Tourism Congress of the Philippines told AFP.

The environment department told AFP said that it would limit tourism activities at El Nido’s most polluted sections while persistently pursuing its rehabilitation at the same time.

According to Environment Undersecretary Benny Antiporda, all swimmers, both local and foreign, will be prohibited from getting into the water in two busy areas of El Nido town, after high levels of coliform bacteria spread by faeces were found there.

While people won’t be allowed in the water, the spots will remain transport hubs for the resort’s main tourist activity, island-hopping.

“If you shut those places off, island hopping – which is the life of El Nido – will also be affected, and we don’t want that to happen,” Antiporda said.

Aside from limiting people’s presence in the waters, the government has started cleaning up different beaches. Locals and tourists who love El Nido have also been contributing their own time and efforts to picking up trash on beaches and in the water.

Antiporda said that strict waste disposal regulations are being enforced with local establishments like hotels and restaurants. Any businesses that violate the rules on waste disposal and building restrictions will be penalised accordingly.

Antiporda said the Philippines’ other major tourist spots are also being closely reviewed by a special government committee assigned to the task. Surfing haven Siargao and snorkelling and diving island paradise of Coron, also in Palawan, are just two of the spots under review.

With more than 7,000 islands and a host of beautiful coasts and beaches, the Philippine economy relies heavily on the tourism industry, as do the locals for their livelihood. -/TISG

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