Mindoro island, known as the “Caribbean of the Far East,” faces an impending environmental crisis - its ecosystem and marine resources have been deterioraing as a result of backyard tourism.
To abort the crisis, the island paradise needs immediate clean up and rehabiliation from the pollution and bacteria that turned the waters along its coast dangerous to the health of divers, swimmers and fishermen, officials said.
A government study that has not been made public — which officials tried to keep under wraps — said the waters along the coast are contaminated with fecal coliforms, a type of waterborne bacteria, which could drive tourists away and kill the tourism industry.
“It’s not true,” said a municipal official, who asked not to be identified, when asked to comment about the study. A similar study, however, by pretigious organizations made the same conclusions in 2006.
The joint technical study was undertaken by the United Nations Development Program —Program for the Environmental Management of the Seas of East Asia, the US Agency for International Development for Coastal Tourism in Asia, the World Wildlife Fund, and water quality division of Environment and Natural Resources Department.
The natural habitats of coral reefs, seagrass and fishes have been deteriorating, and environment experts point to the cause of the degradation to the “backyard tourism.”
Puerto Galera Mayor Hubert Dolor said non-government organizations started backyard tourism in the 1980s to preempt multinational investors from taking control of the business in the area.
But the unregulated industry allowed backyard businessmen to dump wastes into the sea, and they paid little attention to its disastrous effect on the natural assets of the island paradise, which is site of the United Nations Man and Biosphere Program (MAB).
According to the environment studies, water from septic tanks of hotels, resort establishments and households, and dirty canals that flow into the bay have caused serious damage to the ecosystem.
Mindoro is the first of two MAB sites established by the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization as part of its “worldwide effort to promote research and study on inter-relationship of earth, human and the natural system. The second MAB site is Palawan.
For unknown reasons, tourist arrivals at Puerto Galera have started to decline from 200,000 in 2008 to 150,000 between 2009 and 2010.
Resort owners blamed the decline on compulsory collection by the municipal government of P50 per tourist as environmental users fee.
But residents blame the resort owners for their unreasonable room rates that range from P600 to P800 per person during the lean months to P3,500 up to P5,000 per person during the peak months from March to June.
“It’s time the municipal tourism council put a stop to this practice and slap price controls on basic services, including hotel rates, food and beverages,” a long-time resident said.
Dolor said the resort owners opposed the P50 environment fee on tourists but the municipal government need the funds to clean up the contaminated sea and to protect the environment.
“Since Puerto Galera has no funds, through the environment fees we can raise the money to fund the long-delayed construction of a P100 milion sewerage water treatment plant in Barangay Sabang, which is the most polluted area,” Dolor said.
Dolor wanted to increase the fee to P120 per tourists but the residents objected, claiming it was exhorbitant and unacceptable and it could kill the tourism industry.
Former mayor and Poblacion Barangay Chairman Aresteo Atienza said it “will not only be the residents who will be affected by the increase but also the tourists themselves.”
Dolor said that with the sewerage water treatment plant the municipal government will collect waste water from the resorts and clean them up before they flow back to the sea.
“We have identified the problem, and we have the solution. I’m giving you two choices: you are either part of the problem or part of the solution,” he said.
Foreign tourists, mostly from Europe and Australia, were expected to start coming from November and stay until February to escape the freezing winter in their respective countries.
Most of them stay at Barangay Sabang, which is home of 33 of the 42 dive sites called “dive paradise” and the “village that never sleeps” because of its active night life.
At the end of March, the advent of the summer season, the residents await the heavy influx of local tourists, who swarm the famous beaches. They stay until the end of May and some overstay until June.
The Filipinos flock to the beaches at Barangays Aninuan and San Isidro, also known as “White Beaches,” where they enjoy the blistering heat of the summer season.
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