By Nestle L. Semilla and Cris Evert Lato-Ruffolo |April 10,2018 - 10:38 PM

Some of the garbage collected during the clean-up drive on Sumilon Island in Oslob including its famous sandbar and dive sites.

Environmentalists describe trash collected from Sumilon as ‘too much’; seek stringent implementation of laws

In a span of four hours, about a hundred volunteers collected at least 2,010 kilos of trash from a seven-hectare area on Sumilon Island, Oslob town in southern Cebu on Tuesday.

These included plastic bottles, candy wrappers, plastics, coffee and shampoo sachets that were picked up from the sandbar, underwater, the mangrove area and a forested area that were governed by the municipal government.

For environmentalists, these were just a “lot of garbage.”

“Ideally, it should be zero,” said Anna Oposa, co-founder of Save Philippine Seas (SPS), an independent movement that aims to protect marine life in the country.

Armed with garbage bags and rakes, at least 100 fishermen, their families, divers and Navy reservists started picking up garbage on the sandbar about 7:40 a.m.

Some volunteers in scuba diving gear dove underwater to collect the garbage on the seabed. Three speedboats were on standby to ferry the trash that were placed inside the garbage bags.

Among the volunteers was Brian Reyes, a professional diver who said they collected plastics and bottles underwater.

“We saw empty sachets of shampoo and coffee bottles as deep as 20 meters,” he said.

He said they also got nylon and fish nets that would not be good for the coral reefs in the marine sanctuary near the sandbar.

Shortly before noon, more than 100 bags of trash were collected, weighing 2,010 kilos. Three of these were trash taken from the sea.

The garbage was later brought to the landfill at the town proper.

Although they had conducted a similar cleanup drive, these was so far their biggest haul, said Oslob Mayor Jose Tumulak Jr.

The cleanup would continue on Wednesday and Thursday although a portion of the island would still be closed for four more days or until April 16.

“It (The closure) will be some sort of a breather for the island. We have to take care of the island to preserve its beauty and avoid the fate suffered by other tourist destinations,” Tumulak said.

But the closure was only limited to seven hectares and not the entire 24-hectare Sumilon Island.

Tumulak said Bluewater Sumilon Island Resort and the areas under its stewardship were not affected by the closure.

In a statement, Bluewater Sumilon said operations of the resort remained normal and they would still accept bookings from guests.

The resort said the degradation of the sandbar and marine sanctuary is a “long-standing concern” and that they were thankful for Tumulak and the Oslob municipal government for acting on it.

Bluewater Sumilon assured that they would make their resources, manpower and expertise available towards the effort in preserving the island.

“Although we would have wanted a longer closure, we believe that the one-week rest from tourism will be good for the environment,” the resort said.

Oposa of SPS said the most basic and important action to take for Cebu destinations to not turn into the next Boracay Island is to follow the law.

President Duterte has ordered the six-month closure of Boracay starting on April 26 to allow the rehabilitation of the country’s premier tourist destination which has been plagued by environmental woes.

“The Philippines and the Province of Cebu have good, well-written laws. If we followed them to the letter, we would be able to preserve our natural environment,” she said.

“There also needs to be education for locals and tourists alike on how they can have the least impact on the environment and make informed choices,” said Oposa.

Oposa said the islands of Bantayan, Sumilon, and Malapascua are growing rapidly due to tourism.

She said these areas already have issues and concerns regarding waste management and declining fish catch, among others.

Vince Cinches, oceans and political campaigner of Greenpeace Southeast Asia-Philippines, said the efforts of the local government units (LGU) in Cebu province to regulate tourism activities is a step at the right direction, and should be within the frame of the role of tourism for a development that is sustainable and equitable.

He said the rehabilitation of Boracay should serve as an inspiration to tourism destinations to clearly enforce existing laws around clean water act and solid waste management law.

“(Enforcing these laws is) a means to deter or discourage tourists from trashing the places they visit and establish a science-based carrying capacity to make sure that the presence of visitors in a given area will not add stress or compete with ecosystem services primarily enjoyed by the locals,” said Cinches.

Mayor Tumulak said he planned to put more teeth to the existing ordinance that penalized littering especially along the shorelines.

For first offense, the violators receive a warning. Two-hour community service and a fine of P2,500 are imposed for second and third offense.

Unfortunately, the ordinance was only strictly implemented in the mainland like the whale shark watching and not on the island.

He said that they had issued citation tickets to foreigners who threw trash on public places in the mainland but no one had been apprehended in Sumilon.

Tumulak said there were just too many tourists on the island that they could not strictly enforce the ordinance.

The mayor said he would sit down with the residents, government agencies and other stakeholders to help them put a limit on the number of tourists going to Sumilon.

The Provincial Tourism Office (PTO) has recommended limiting the number of tourists to 522 per day, the island’s carrying capacity.

“At present, there are just a lot of tourists who go there and we don’t have control over their arrival,” he added.

Unlike in Sumilon, Tumulak said the municipal government has control over the number of pumpboats that are used during the whale shark watching at a given time.

Apolonio Baclayon of Provincial Environmental and Natural Resources Office lauded Tumulak for taking the initiative before Sumilon would turn into another Boracay.

Baclayon, chief of Pollution Control Section of PENRO’s Law Enforcement Division, urged other local government units, especially those in the coastal areas,to conduct a similar cleanup drive before it’s too late.

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