BORACAY, Philippines (AP) — Tourists are spending their final hours on Boracay, enjoying the Philippine island's famed white-sand beaches before it closes for up to six months to recover from overcrowding and development.
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte described the waters off Boracay as a "cesspool" before ordering the closure. But on Wednesday, one Australian visitor said the island had one of the cleanest beaches he's seen.
"I don't really understand too much about what's going on, about the sewage problem . because when I look out there, I see one of the cleanest beaches I've ever seen in my life, and the most beautiful beaches I've ever seen in my life," said Tim Malone, 33.
"We are just waiting for the bar to open so that we can get a couple of beers before we go on to our flight, but yeah we just want to enjoy the beach for a few more hours so we got up pretty early and made sure we make the most of it ."
A government study says more than 2 million tourists visited Boracay last year to enjoy its powdery beaches, spectacular sunsets and festive nightlife, generating about 56 billion pesos ($1 billion) in revenue. But it said the tourist influx, neglected infrastructure and growth of resorts threatened to turn Boracay into a "dead island" in less than a decade.
Tourism Undersecretary Frederick Alegre hopes the island will be more sustainable when it resumes normal operations after a few months.
"We have to bite the bullet," Alegre said earlier this week. "We have to swallow the bitter pill, one step backward, two steps forward, because we know that it's something that has to be done now to sustain the island."
Officials have said the island can only handle 30,000 people but teems with 70,000 at any given time, including 50,000 residents and daily arrivals of about 20,000 tourists.
About 17,000 are employed in Boracay's tourist establishments, and 10,000 to 12,000 others benefit from the bustling tourism business.
Only about 47 percent of the hundreds of establishments are connected to the island's main sewerage treatment plant, with many of the rest maintaining crude septic tanks or discharging their waste directly into the sea.
A similar decision was made in Thailand, where Maya Bay on Phi Phi Leh island in the Andaman Sea will be closed for four months starting in June.
Many Thai marine parks close for part of the year but the release of the Leonardo DiCaprio movie "The Beach" in 2000 made picturesque Maya Bay so popular it stayed open year-round. It averages 200 boats and 4,000 visitors daily, and recent surveys found the area's coral reefs and sea life damaged or gone.