The Philippines will shut its most famous holiday island for six months after the President called it a “cesspool”.
Rodrigo Duterte has approved the temporary closure of Boracay after saying the waters off its famed white-sand beaches were being polluted with raw sewage.
His spokesman confirmed the shutdown will commence on 26 April, but he did not clarify what the clean-up will involve.
In 2017, two million tourists visited the island which is popular for its lively nightlife, turquoise seas and powdery sands.
Thousands of livelihoods rely on the tourism industry, which is worth around $1bn (£710m) to the national economy.
Reports suggest disaster funds would be activated to help affected workers, but business leaders have urged the government to phase in the plans more slowly.
“We are a bit depressed right now in the industry,” said Jose Clemente, president of the Tourism Congress of the Philippines.
“I really feel for the people in Boracay. They really need to find ways to be employed, or at least keep their head above water for the next six months.”
Some local business owners have expressed concern over how they will survive without an income.
In February, the fiery president criticised the resort’s 500 hotel owners and restaurateurs, accusing them of dumping sewage in the sea.
“You go into the water, it’s smelly. Smell of what? S**t. Because it all comes out in Boracay,” Mr Duterte said.
Officials have warned the island’s drainage system is sending untreated waste into the water – with a government study concluding the sewage will turn Boracay into a “dead island” in less than a decade unless action is taken.
The environment ministry says 195 businesses and more than 4,000 residents are not connected to sewer lines.
Last month, environment undersecretary Jonas Leones told reporters that shutting down the tourist trade may include suspending ferry services, making the beaches off limits, and stationing police there “if necessary”.
“An iron fist is needed to bring it back to its previous condition. It will be a temporary thing,” Mr Leones said.
In response to Wednesday night’s announcement, some airlines have already cut back their services.
Cebu Pacific told Reuters it has cancelled 14 daily round-trip flights to Caticlan and Kalibo, Boracay’s two main gateways, from April 26 to October 25.
Philippine Airlines said it would scale down services to the airports and add flights to other destinations instead.
“We fully support the government’s intention to make Boracay fully safe and environmentally friendly,” said Jaime Bautista, the airline’s president.
Both companies are offering customers refunds or alternative flights and said they would still run a limited number of services for the island’s residents.
The decision follows a confirmation from Thai authorities that Maya Bay, which shot to fame in the Leonardo DiCaprio movie The Beach, will be closed to tourists for four months from June to allow coral reefs to recover.
From – SkyNews