Enough is Enough | Island Issues On-the-Spot Fines to Tourists Using Plastic

The Filipino community of El Nido is taking extreme measures to fight tourist-driven pollution

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Nov 20 2018, 2:27pm

The once-pristine island of Palawan, now damaged by the impacts of tourism. Photo via Unsplash

After going viral for the quantity of plastic waste in their lagoons, the municipality of El Nido, on the stunning Filipino island of Palawan, has launched a fightback. They have completely banned single-use plastics, and are banishing package tours for good in an effort to push back against the negative effects of overtourism.

From this Friday onwards, large groups of tourists will be prevented from visiting the island. Those that are allowed through will be warned that the use, and even the possession, of single-use plastics on the island is prohibited.

In addition to this, El Nido’s local government have announced an additional increase in the charges required to visit both their small and big lagoons, in a further effort to dissuade tourists from visiting, or at the very least, to help mitigate the cost of their environmental damage.

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Significant quantities of plastic waste are washing up on the shores of El Nido. Photo via Unsplash

Officials in El Nido specifically are fearful of drifting into the state that Boracay - another incredibly popular island in the central Philippines - found itself in as a result of pollution. Earlier this year, the Filipino government closed Borcary entirely for six months, on account of the decades of environmental damage caused by the island’s reputation as a party destination.

Boracay only re-opened at the end of October, and has now been cleared of all the casinos and nightclubs that made it such an attraction.

El Nido’s mayor, Nieves Cabunalda Rosento, has not shied away from making examples of tourists flaunting her anti-plastic rules. Local reports suggest Cabunalda Rosento has been issuing on-the-spot fines of 10,000 Filipino Pisos (£148.38) to market vendors, tourist guides, and anyone caught with single-use plastics upon their person.

Trumpeting the "Five Rs of El Nido: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Refuse, Report", has apparently sought to make clear that she is personally leading the charge against plastic waste.

Heidi Savelli-Soderberg, a Programme Officer for Marine Litter at the UN, is encouraged by these measures in the short-term. However, she does not see banning single-use plastic as a panacea. “Banning various types of unnecessary single-use plastic items can be an important first step in the fight against plastic pollution,” she said.

“But to solve the problem of plastic pollution in the long-term… we need to completely change the way we think. We need to stop treating plastic as something we can just throw away, and start treating it as a material that has actual value.”

El Nido will, of course, also need to balance their efforts to preserve and restore Palawan’s natural beauty with their reliance on tourism as a major source of employment. Savelli-Soderberg recognises this when talking about solutions. She argues that it’s “important to do this in consultation with all relevant stakeholders, and give industries - including tourism, upon which many coastal regions rely - time to adapt.”

But of course, tourists will not continue coming to a tropical paradise if it is strewn with plastic waste, the water is tainted and the beaches are ruined. So while El Nido's moves might seem drastic, they may also provide the key to the island's survival.