Cordova's floating cottages were ordered to close. Why are they harmful?

·3 min read
Floating cottages off Cordova on Mactan Island, Cebu, Philippines
Floating cottage resorts near the coast of Cordova on Mactan Island, Cebu. (Photo: Twin Floating Cottage Cordova)

Cebu Governor Gwendolyn Garcia on Wednesday (Aug 17) reiterated her Executive Order that the floating cottages of Cordova must cease operations temporarily by August 29.

This was necessary to prevent further pollution to the sea waters around Cordova, and rehabilitate the environment for more sustainable tourism, said the governor.

Tests of the seawater by the local government had shown that it contained unsafe levels of fecal coliform bacteria.

Garcia made the announcement after a meeting with more than 400 owners of such floating cottages.

Cordova Mayor Cesar Suan, who had pushed for Cebu's Provincial Government to intervene in the brewing environmental and health crisis, was also present at the stakeholders’ meeting held at the Cordova Gym in Barangay Poblacion.

Cordova's cottage resorts

What are these cottages that have been polluting the water, and how is that dangerous?

Local resort operators recently built the cottages along the coast of Cordova, a third-class municipality in the south of Mactan Island.

Some of these are fixed cottages, and some, floating cottages.

Most guests at these seaside resorts appear to be Filipinos, while more upscale resorts elsewhere on Mactan cater to both international and local tourists.

As early as back in November 2021, then-mayor Therese Sitoy-Cho had already ordered the closure of one such resort, the Bora Bora Floating Cottage, due to violations including not having a business permit, building permit, and sanitary permit.

However, many other such floating cottages numbering about 300 to 400 continued to operate.

At one resort, guests can book tables, kubos or floating cottages around a sandbar in Cordova's "Bantayan Bay" for prices ranging from P500 to P5000.

A banca boat ride to the cottages costs P10 or P20.

Guests can swim in waist-high water, barbecue food on grills on the floating cottages, or sunbathe on the roof.

Sea pollution and its health impacts

The seaside resorts have apparently been releasing large amounts of sewage into the water, causing high levels of fecal coliforms in the water.

According to water sampling tests conducted by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources in Central Visayas, fecal coliform levels ranged from 170 – 2,400 most probable number (MPN) per 100 milliliters (ml).

That has exceeded the level of fecal coliform considered to be safe for bathing or swimming in coastal waters: 100 MPN per 100 ml.

Yellow colored rod-shaped Escherichia coli bacteria found in the intestine and in feces - 3d illustration
3D illustration of Escherichia coli bacteria, found in the intestine and in feces. (Image: Getty Images)

The presence of fecal coliform bacteria is used as an indicator of disease-causing organisms in the water. Fecal coliforms are specifically found in the gut and feces of warm-blooded animals.

While most coliform bacteria don't cause disease, some can cause illnesses like an upset stomach, vomiting, fever, or diarrhea. Some rare strains of Escherichia coli can cause serious illnesses that might lead to death.

The temporary closing of the floating cottages brings to mind a similar closure of resorts on Boracay in 2018 ordered by then president Rodrigo Duterte in order to clean up pollution caused by resorts indiscriminately releasing sewage into the sea.

Boracay was reopened to tourists in October 2018 after a six-month clean-up, but with continuing restrictions on tourist activities in order to protect the environment.

Mayor Suan said the current construction of fixed cottages along Cordova's coast or within easement zones would be stopped.

The rehabilitation process will include converting fixed cottages into floating cottages, but now outfitting them with toilets and washroom areas to prevent environmental degradation.