Boracay’s environmental woes

SOME dimwits online and elsewhere are trying to make light of Boracay Island’s environmental problems by spewing fallacies. One hilarious fallacy or lie is that lumot or green algae that bloom in the island’s shoreline are a good indication and essential to the beach area because it is the main source of the famed white sand.

What?! Any kid in elementary or high school will tell these dimwits that lumot or green algae serve as food for marine life and an indicator of ecological balance or the lack of it. In fact, algal blooms are indications of serious water pollution and this fact has been established by numerous scientific studies.

So if a dimwit approaches and tells you that lumot equals white sand, smack that person squarely on the face, not with your fist but with scientific evidence. Boracay is too precious a gem to be left to quacks.

 

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Last April 23, 2018, the National Academy of Science and Technology, Philippines (NAST PHL), through its Biological Sciences Division, Health Sciences Division, and Engineering Sciences and Technology Division held a policy forum on rehabilitation of Boracay Island and management of coastal environment problems/concerns.

A press release from the Department of Science and Technology-NAST said “the policy forum was conducted to assist in the determination of appropriate rehabilitation roadmap specific to the current conditions and needs of Boracay Island Coastal Environment and help in the efforts towards the sustainable development and resiliency of Boracay Island Ecosystem after these initial steps towards its rehabilitation.”

Some of the topics presented by scientists and academicians on the real environmental health of Boracay were quite revealing. In fact, the scientific community has sounded the warning bells on the island’s precarious situation even before President Duterte called it a cesspool. At the outset, the island was already on the precipice of ecological destruction.

Academician Guillermo Q. Tabios III of the NAST PHL Engineering Sciences and Technology Division talked about “Boracay Island: State of Land Resources and Land-Sea-Human Interactions.”

Tabios discussed the role of the coral reef ecosystem, one of the most important tourist attractions in Boracay. Citing previous and recent work of marine scientists, he emphasized that coral reef ecosystem contributes not only as one of the important tourism resources but also “to white beach preservation by providing sediment supply and protection from the rough waves.”

Dr. Ma. Lourdes San Diego-Mcglone, a professor at the UP Marine Science Institute, discussed the coastal habitat degradation and decreasing coral cover in Boracay. She identified several environmental issues in Boracay Island, such as coastal erosion, improper coastal infrastructure development, high rate of population increase, water quality degradation, green tides, loss of coastal habitats, and lack of the local government’s knowledge on how to address the issues.

Citing their research team’s findings, Mcglone said the island’s benthic or coal cover has decreased by 70% from 1988 to 2011 or a span of 23 years. The most significant decrease occurred in 2008-2011 when tourist arrivals increased by 38.4%. Prior to this occurrence, a dramatic increase in sand and coral rubbles were also reported in southwest Boracay during the years 2003-2006.

Another issue that the island is facing is the erosion of the white beach. McGlone said that the deterioration of the reef ecosystem in front of the beach leads to erosion due to the reduction of reef’s function as natural breakwater and supplier of white sand/beach sediments. The deterioration is caused by water quality degradation and direct impacts of marine leisure activities such as anchoring, diving, and snorkeling, to name a few.

She also cited improper construction of sea walls, restaurants and hotels on the backshore as a secondary cause of erosion in the island and gave suggestions on how the management of the coastal environment could help preserve the white sand and other natural features of Boracay.

Dr. Vincent V. Hilomen, project manager of Smart SEA Project of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), explained the current conditions of reefs in Boracay.

Based on the reef condition from the live coral cover obtained from scuba diving in 2013, Balusbos and Motag are in poor condition, while Balinghai marine protected area (MPA), Friday’s Rock MPA, Lobster Rock, and Caticlan are in fair condition. On the other hand, Coral Garden MPA is in good condition and the only excellent area out of the 8 sites surveyed in Boracay is Angol Point.

Hilomen stressed the importance of wetlands ecosystem that serves as water catchment basin during the rainy season. As we all know, several wetlands on the island have disappeared under the feverish and unbridled concrete developments there.

Wetlands prevent flooding and allow slow release of filtered water to the sea. Hilomen suggested rehabilitating habitats, harnessing locals for conservation activities, educating tourists and residents, and imposing a policy of “no collection” of shells and other materials on the island.

Another equally important study presented during the forum is the state of water quality and microbiology of coastal waters in Boracay Island citing a study conducted in 2012 by the team of Dr. Raymond J. Sucgang with support from DOST, the Philippine Nuclear Research Institute (PNRI), local government units, Tokyo Metropolitan University (TMU), Center for Analytical Techniques Nuclear Research Institute in Dalat, Vietnam; the University of Sto. Tomas (UST), among others.

I will discuss the results of the study next week as it is highly technical, thus I need guidance from experts.

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