ILOILO City – The daily removal of unwelcome green algae carpeting Boracay’s shores won’t do it, according to a marine biology expert at the University of the Philippines Visayas (UPV).
“It is a waste of time. If the cause of water pollution is not solved, the algae will keep on returning,” said Dr. Resurreccion Sadaba, professor at the Division of Biological Sciences, College of Arts & Sciences, UPV.
Each day since the start of Boracay’s closure on April 26 for six months of rehabilitation, workers tapped by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) gather green algae covering the island’s white-sand shores. The following morning, however, more algae are washed ashore.
The culprit, according to Sadaba, is the untreated wastewater being discharged into the sea surrounding Boracay.
Algae feed on this untreated wastewater from resorts and residences, said Sadaba, a marine biology expert who helped revive mangroves in Guimaras when the island province was hit by a massive oil spill in 2006.
He likened the daily effort to remove the algae in Boracay to “just treating the symptoms but not disease itself.”
“The disease is really the failure on wastewater treatment,” said Sadaba whose expertise was also tapped by the provincial government of Iloilo when the northern part of the province was struck by an oil spill in the aftermath of super typhoon “Yolanda” in 2013.
Centralized wastewater treatment could reduce if not eliminate the growth of green algae, said Sadaba.
The wastewater discharge problem did not come as a surprise to Sadaba who has studied the algae phenomenon in Boracay.
“I suggested a long time ago for the real-time monitoring of phosphate and nitrate levels in Boracay’s waters because these give nutrients for algae to bloom,” he said.
Getting rid of the algae won’t happen overnight, said Sadaba.
“It will take some time…kun asta san-o tanan nga nutrients (phosphate and nitrate) madula. Kay kun wala na makaon ang algae, paano pa na sila magdamo,” he said.
The high level of coliform bacteria in Boracay’s waters is also a result of the dumping of untreated wastewater into the sea, added Sadaba.
The current water treatment facility in the island treats only a small percentage of wastewater produced in Boracay, he said.
He observed that only a few establishments are connected to the facility.
The green algae’s presence particularly on the shores is expected, added Sadaba.
“Ara sya sa kilid kay dira man directly ang discharge, which is bad kay dira man ang tawo gapaligo sa kilid,” he explained.
As for how long it would take to see improvements in Boracay, Sadaba said it would be better to set goals or targets.
“Ano gid bala ang gusto naton matabo (What is it that we really want to accomplish),” he said.
But six months may be too short, he said, adding that it is not clear what the government really wants to do first on the island.
It would do DENR good to consult the experts, said Sadaba.
He stressed the importance of conducting a scientific assessment on Boracay.
“There are so many experts in this field in the Visayas who could certainly help solve Boracay’s environmental problems,” he stressed.
GREEN ALGAE MAKE BORACAY SAND WHITE?
Salaba dismissed the belief of the island’s residents and some stakeholders that green algae makes Boracay’s sand white or turn to white sand itself.
“That is not true. Algae have nothing to do with sand. Boracay’s white sand comes from coral reefs that produce silica. Algae do not produce silica,” he stressed. “Wrong gid ang belief nga mag-decompose ang algae ma-turn sa white sand. Ano ina, magic?”
Boracay Foundation, Inc., a business industry association on the island, tried to play down the presence of algae in the island as seasonal.
This phenomenon had been observed by the locals even before Boracay became a prime destination flocked by tourists and crowded with development, it stressed.
“Scientifically, green algal bloom is linked to the high nutrient load of the water. Usually with calm and warm waters, coupled with intense light during summer, these green algae consume excess nutrients from the water and process it for their growth and reproduction. In fact this equates to their proliferation…The presence of these algae is nature’s way of balancing the problem of high nutrient content in the water,” read part of the brochure prepared by the foundation specifically made to address concerns over Boracay’s green algae./PN