Philippines rushes to save Boracay

By David Dizon,

Posted at May 20 2014 07:32 PM | Updated as of May 22 2014 03:11 AM

Boracay island

MANILA - The Philippine government on Tuesday said it is bent on saving the island paradise of Boracay as climate change and unchecked development threaten to destroy the world famous white sand beach.

Tourism Secretary Ramon Jimenez said several Boracay establishments have already followed an order by a government task force to self-demolish structures for building too close to the water line.

Those who followed the self-demolish order last year, he said, now have nice beachfronts while others who have yet to follow the order still have rocky or dirty beachfronts.

"The sand has become compacted because of their violations. The white sand has sloughed off because of the structures and were brought to sea. As we've said before, if you try to stop off the surf, the tendency is for the water to eat into the shoreline," he said in a radio DZMM interview.

Jimenez earlier said a government task force, composed of the tourism, environment, health, justice and interior and local government departments, have finalized a list of 80 establishments that violated the easement portion area of the 4-kilometer white sand beach in Boracay.

He said some of the structures including embankments to prevent floods will be completely demolished for building too near the water line.

President Aquino has also sounded the alarm on possible loss of Philippine beaches due to the effects of climate change. In a speech to the UN World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) - ASEAN International Conference on Tourism and Climate Change, Aquino pointed out that Philippine tourist destinations are at risk from the effects of climate change.

"It is true: We have some of the best beaches and dive spots in the world. Sadly, these areas are also the ones most vulnerable to climate risk--whether in the form of loss of biodiversity or coastal erosion. Our immediate response: To plan ahead and reduce the impact of the effects of climate change on our tourist destinations, among others," he said.

The United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and a team of scientists from the University of the Philippines earlier conducted erosion research in the area and noted that every centimeter rise in water level results in a one-meter beach erosion.

From climate change alone, Boracay is already fated to shed off portions of its reputed 4-kilometer White Beach.

The tourism secretary said the Philippine government is looking at an engineering intervention to save Boracay, which was previously chosen by international travel magazine Travel + Leisure as the world's best island getaway.

"You think that nature is permanent but it's not...As soon as the plans are complete, we will show an engineering solution there. We just need to check the funds. There is a cost involved in saving nature. This is what we are saying, it doesn't have to happen to all the islands. Boracay should be the example," Jimenez said.

The Philippine government is also taking the legal route to save the island from unchecked development.

Jimenez said one case that government is looking at is the construction of West Cove resort in Boracay. West Cove became controversial for constructing structures on natural rock formations and operating for years without permits.

The tourism chief said the government has received more complaints about West Cove including the planned construction of an access road going to the resort.

Without going into details, he said the Department of Tourism is tapping another government agency to handle the problem. "It's now in the hands of the Department of Justice. I cannot disclose any details but their plans will not prosper," he said.