MANILA, Philippines – In many ways, the famed Boracay Island has exceeded its capacity, which led to its temporary closure.
Officials have repeatedly said in the past that these excesses have included population, infrastructure, and waste which contributed to environmental degradation.
Boracay is set to be reopened to the public this October, and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) is determined to adhere to its carrying-capacity study to the letter.
Below are the key findings of the study, as visualized by Rappler in charts and maps:
The DENR's commissioned study found that Boracay Island can accommodate only a total of 54,945 people at a time.
The study computed for the total number of tourists and non-tourists on the island, considering the island's land area, limiting factors such as environmental considerations, as well as hours spent for activities.
If the "real carrying capacity"recommendation is to be followed, there should only be 19,215 tourists and 35,730 residents.
The study revealed that it was not the average number of tourists that was problem, but the total number of people living on the island.
According to the study, the number of non-tourists – composed of locals, migrant workers, and stay-in workers – exceeded capacity by 16,796. There were a total of 52,526 people inhabiting the island prior to the closure.
This means that almost a third of the population in Boracay needs to be relocated. (WATCH: For residents, uncertainty looms over Boracay relocation plan)
The DENR is currently eyeing to relocate some 6,000 workers to mainland Malay town in Aklan. But this is a challenge, Environment Secretary Roy Cimatu earlier said, as a relocation site has yet to be identified 5 months into the island's closure.
On regular days, the number of tourists in Boracay is not an issue. In 2017, an average of 18,255 tourists visited the island – well within the maximum allowed.
The cap, which set a total of 19,215 persons per day, was computed by following the World Tourism Organization standards for swimming and beach areas:
But the problem becomes more evident during the peak months, when tourists crowd the island beyond its daily capacity as indicated in the study. The study recommended that only 6,405 tourists enter the island daily, assuming that they stay at least 3 days.
In 2017, the Department of Tourism found that the island exceeded its daily capacity during the months of February, April, and May.
The peak was during the month of April, when an excess of 1,969 tourists stayed on the island. This was followed by an extra 735 people in the month of May.
Aside from being a favorite summertime destination, tourists also flock to Boracay because of the annual Labor Day parties dubbed "Laboracay."
The study also found that the number of hotels and rooms being offered have exceeded the ideal number.
The Boracay inter-agency task force found that there are 525 hotels on the island. The figure is way above the 430 existing hotels and beach resorts in the DOT registry.
But the study said if the total number of allowed tourists will be followed, there should only be 249 hotels. This means there is a surplus of 276 hotels.
The number of hotel rooms is also way too excessive. There were 14,456 rooms, but the carrying capacity requires only 8,355 rooms. The number of existing facilities does not include the unregistered ones being rented out.
The government earlier suspended the environmental compliance certificates (ECCs) of all establishments on the island to check if they are compliant with local and national laws. Days before the dry run, the suspension was lifted to allow establishments to apply for necessary permits to operate.
On October 12, the government approved the permits of 68 hotels and resorts, which translates to a total of 3,519 rooms. The initial list of establishments consists of those who were able to comply with permit and clearance requirements of the interior and environment departments.
The study also found that waste management remains to be a problem in an overly inhabited Boracay.
Assuming that the carrying capacity will be followed, the average weight of solid waste that will be generated should not exceed 80.77 tons per day.
But the study revealed that 90 tons of solid waste were generated daily in Boracay, which means an excess of around 9.23 tons per day.
In addition, the island lacked facilities to treat wastewater. Prior to the closure, the island generated an estimated 18.23 million liters of wastewater daily. (READ: Boracay: From pristine island to fragile paradise)
The current capacity of sewerage treatment plants (STP) is only at 12 million liters per day (MLD). Boracay Island Water Company's STP has an 11.5-MLD capacity, while Boracay Tubi has an 0.5-MLD capacity.
Establishments and households not connected to sewerage treatment plants triggered the increase of water pollution to extreme levels. (WATCH: How green can Boracay get?)
In a bid to address the lack of treatment facilities, the DENR in a memorandum dated September 18 required hotels and resorts along White Beach with 40 rooms and above to construct their own STPs. Those outside the said beach with 50 rooms and above were required to do the same.
Hotels along White Beach with less than 40 rooms, as well as those outside the said beach area, but with 49 rooms and below, have the option to do the same. They may choose to have a clustered STP.
The DENR said that all treatment plants should discharge Class SB water or treated domestic used water suitable for recreational activities such as swimming or skin diving.
The study also identified heavy traffic congestion along Boracay roads, stretching from Cagban Port to Lake Town in Station 2.
The most dense among the routes is the Rotonda in Barangay Manoc-manoc to Kingfisher in Station 3. It has a traffic volume of 3,798.78 passenger-car unit (PCU) per hour, for a total length of roughly 200 meters for a two-way, two-lane road.
At its congested state, it might take a passenger around two hours and 25 minutes to travel from Cagban Port to Rotonda. The road from Cagban has an average of 1,938.6 PCU per hour.
The capacity of Boracay roads for one-lane streets and two-lane streets is only 720 PCU per hour and 1,200 PCU per hour, respectively. But routes from Cagban Port to Station 2 exceeded the said figures.
The local government also ordered the shift to electric passenger tricycles, from the motorized tricycles that used to be the main mode of transportation on the island.
Boracay may reopen on October 26, but government officials said the island's full rehabilitation will not be completed by then.
Tourism Secretary Bernadette Puyat said that only the first phase will be done this October, with only major road networks completed. The island's full rehabilitation is expected by December 2019.
Meanwhile, public works are expected to be done during the second phase. Sewerage systems, as constructed by the Tourism Infrastructure and Enterprise Zone Authority, should be done also by December 2019.
But these targets will only possible if the weather does not impede construction work, Puyat said.
After all, thousands of workers were displaced due to the 6-month shutdown, forcing some to leave the island to look for other livelihood opportunities. Others opted to take the P323/day jobs offered by the government. (READ: 'Gov't assistance during Boracay closure not enough' – residents)
Still, locals believe that the rehabilitation is overdue. They are looking forward to the reopening of the island and the promise of a "new and improved Boracay."
But when it reopens, Boracay won't be the same anymore. – Rappler.com