Manila: Earth Day strikes a painful chord for the Philippines as the country contends with lack of sustainable tourism regulations and highly polluting plastic waste.

As the country joins the world in marking Earth Day, the presidential palace said recent government moves to close down its most popular tourism destination, the internationally popular Boracay in Malay, Aklan, is a wake-up call for the country’s unhampered plastics waste generation and shift towards sustainable tourism.

“This year’s observance of Earth Day in the Philippines has stricken a resonant chord with the government’s resolve to clean and restore Boracay Island to its previous stature as one of the most beautiful and pristine beaches of the world,” Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque said on Sunday.

Last week, President Duterte approved the six-month closure of Boracay to tourists starting April 26 following concerns that the island’s poor solid waste management and inadequate efforts to impose environmental protection laws are putting a strain on the local ecology.

“This is a good wake-up call to everyone that we must not sacrifice the future ecological sustainability on the altar of economic growth and development,” Roque said.

Environment Secretary Roy Cimatu cited a 2015 report by the Ocean Conservancy and McKinsey Centre for Business and Environment, which placed the Philippines in third position as among the highest source of plastic pollution in “global waters,” next to China and Indonesia.

Lia Alonzo, Research and Advocacy Programme Coordinator of the Centre for Environmental Concerns — Philippines said in the particular case of Boracay, the island has been experiencing two decades of recurring issues on waste water and solid waste management.

“There had been outbreaks of coliform bacteria as early as 1997 that caused a 60 per cent decline in tourist arrivals during that period. In 2004, the coliform crisis continued since not all establishments were connected to the centralised sewage treatment plant according to the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR).

In 2009, the same problem was encountered in 2009 and 2015.

Aside the poorly managed waste and plastics pollution also resulted in the decline of coral cover. Alonzo said diminishing coral cover and pollution are correlated with the number of tourists visiting the country.

“A study of the Philippine and Japanese governments showed that the coral cover declined 70.5 per cent over a period of only two decades which coincided with the 38.4 per cent increase in tourist arrivals. Both the decline of water quality and coral reef deterioration were associated with the direct discharge of untreated waste near the shore,” Alonzo said.

Representative Lucy Torres-Gomez said the House tourism panel has already approved a bill which seeks to protect Boracay and other similar tourist destinations in the country from environmental issues.

Torres-Gomez, committee chairperson, said she filed House Bill 7229 or the proposed “Philippine Sustainable Tourism Act” to address issues of environmental degradation, public health and intractable tourism business growth in Boracay.

“The Philippine Sustainable Tourism Act will offer a paradigm shift from our old ways of doing business in the tourism industry,” Gomez said.