Slimy algae in Boracay stir debate among locals, experts

Rhys Buccat, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Mar 22 2017 04:45 AM | Updated as of Mar 22 2017 07:28 AM

AKLAN -- Rain or shine, tourism never stops in Boracay.

Photo by Rhys Buccat, ABS-CBN News

In the first two months of 2017, the Department of Tourism (DOT) recorded a total of 344,026 tourist arrivals-- much higher compared to the 331,957 in the same period last year.

The influx of tourists pushes airline companies to launch new flights to the island, particularly in Caticlan which is way nearer to Boracay compared to Kalibo.  

Photo by Rhys Buccat, ABS-CBN News

But while many tourists are excited to see the 4-kilometer stretch of white sand, some are utterly disappointed with the algal bloom occurring in some areas of the beach. The algal bloom makes Boracay's azure water slimy and dark green. 

One of the disappointed tourists is Ricky, who traveled all the way from Pangasinan to celebrate his upcoming graduation. He said he is quite disappointed with what he saw while strolling by the beach. 

"Nagpunta ako dito para mag-relax, pero parang na-i-stress pa ako dito sa beach," he said. "Nakakadiri 'yong tubig. Ang baho."

Photo by Rhys Buccat, ABS-CBN News

Angelica from Taguig shared Ricky's sentiments. While it was her first time to visit Boracay, Angelica said this was not the Boracay she pictured in her mind. 

"Hindi ko nga alam bakit tinatawag nila itong 'the best beach' e marami namang mas magandang beaches sa Bohol or Cebu. Mas malinis pa," she said. 

Both Angelica and Ricky said they have nothing else to look forward to but the vibrant nightlife that the White Beach is known for. Since, for them, swimming in the slimy green water is really disgusting. 
 
"Pa-party nalang kami ng friends ko. Baka mas fun pa 'yon kaysa sa swimming," Ricky added. 

Photo by Rhys Buccat, ABS-CBN News

Last year, the 1,032-hectare island recorded a total of 1,725,483 tourist arrivals. DOT expects the numbers will be higher this year, despite the bad publicity Boracay has been getting. 

Polluted Water? 

Photo by Rhys Buccat, ABS-CBN News

This is not the first time that the waters near the White Beach turned green. In fact, algal bloom seems to be an ordinary occurrence during the summer season. 

But in 2015, former Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) Secretary Ramon Paje expressed his concern over the worsening quality of water in Boracay. This was the same year when the agency's Environmental Management Bureau in Western Visayas reported that the coliform levels in Bulabog Beach had already gone beyond safety standards. 

Coliforms are bacteria that are usually found in human and animal wastes or from decaying organisms. 

Photo by Rhys Buccat, ABS-CBN News

DENR said that untreated wastewater is one of the biggest contributors of coliform in Boracay. This, despite the presence of Boracay Island Water Company which requires the wastewaters from commercial establishments to undergo treatment in their facility before releasing it into the sea. 

In the five-year (2010-2015) study conducted by the Japan International Cooperation Agency, which comprised Filipino and Japanese scientists, it was found that one of the main culprits for algal bloom and coral reef deterioration is the direct discharge of untreated waste water. 

Locals speak up 

Photo by Rhys Buccat, ABS-CBN News

Despite these alarming environmental issues, locals said the algal bloom is just natural. And it is even one of the reasons why Boracay's sand remains powdery white. 

Linda, a massage therapist and a resident of the island, said that the beach always turns green during summer. "Normal lang 'yan," she quipped. "Kahit noong hindi pa well-developed ang Boracay, may algae na talaga tuwing summer."

Backing up Linda's claim is Gerry, a bartender who has been living in the island for the past decade. "Hindi naman delikado 'yang algae," Gerry said. "Actually, 'yan pa ang nagpapa-puti ng sand." 

Photo by Rhys Buccat, ABS-CBN News

According to Boracay Foundation, Inc., many locals actually believe that algae turn into sand when they decompose. "We have to respect their belief, the way we respect ethical differences," the foundation said in a Facebook post. 

They added that there is nothing really scary about the algal bloom. "The presence of these algae is nature's way of balancing the problem of high nutrient content in the water."

Boracay Foundation, Inc. is a non-profit business group composed of representatives from Boracay’s tourism establishments, island organizations, residents, and expatriates. 

Down the ranks 

In this year's poll by popular travel site TripAdvisor, Boracay White Beach landed 24th among the top 25 beaches in the site's "2017 Travelers’ Choice Awards." It fell down from being 12th in 2016 and 7th in 2015. 

The ranking is based on reviews of travelers posted on TripAdvisor, which claims to house 435 million reviews and opinions covering 6.8 million accommodations, restaurants, and attractions around the world.

Makoy, one of the tour guides in the island, however, said he does not believe in these rankings. "Para sa akin Boracay pa rin ang the best. Ito ang may pinaka-attractive na beach of all," he added. 

Photo by Rhys Buccat, ABS-CBN News

He said he will only believe these rankings if tourism begins to drop as well. "Well, as you can see, marami pa ring tourists ang binabalikan ang Boracay," he emphasized. 
 
And despite the slimy algae and the dark green waters, the 30-year-old Boracay native said business goes "as usual."