Swimming banned in parts of El Nido due to pollution from open sewer

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El Nido
Barangay Buena Suerte was ordered closed for swimming by environment chiefs today. The coastal village is where the main sewer of El Nido empties into the sea. (Photo by Celeste Anna R Formoso)

Environment Secretary Roy Cimatu has ordered the environmental rehabilitation of El Nido, due to high levels of faecal bacteria in the sea.

“You told us last time that it will take you six months to rehabilitate. We will give you six months to rehabilitate El Nido,” he told town Mayor Nieves Rosento today (Wednesday, November 28).

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However, he stressed that “there will be no closure” of the town — as was the case with Boracay Island — but that swimming would be banned in certain areas due to a dangerously high levels faecal coliform bacteria. These were measured at 1,300 parts per million (ppm).

“If it goes down to 100 ppm, then we will open again for swimming. We will put a market there that says off limits,” he said.

Mayor Rosento said the area in question, Buena Suerte coastal village, is where the town’s main sewer empties into the sea.

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However, within six months, she said it would be the site of a sewage treatment plant to remove contaminants from wastewater.

“Our main outfall is there but it will also be the sight of our sewage treatment facility. We hope to complete construction in six months. Hopefully, there will be no weather disturbance so we can meet our target,” she said.

During the site inspection with Department of Tourism Secretary Bernadette Romulo-Puyat, Department of 

Interior and Local Government Eduardo Año and other government officials, Cimatu also hinted at the possibility of imposing an additional 20-metre setback in addition to the current three-metre easement zone.

He said the idea was similar to what had been done in Boracay to clean-up the beach and widen the area open for tourist activities.

“What if we push the easement zone]20 metres more… because how can people enjoy the beach with just three meters easement? This is intended for swimming,” he added.

Puyat agreed, saying that tourist numbers might increase after Bacuit Bay is cleaned up.

“Maybe more tourists will come to El Nido if they see that the beach is already clean and wide enough for them,” she said.

However, Mayor Rosento was cautious about the additional setback, worrying about its effects on local businesses.

“We’re hoping that it won’t go to that because it will be a long process. Some of the properties here are titled. Besides, the case here is not really like Boracay,” she said.

Earlier this month, we reported on another announcement on the rehabilitation of El Nido, in which individual establishments would be targeted for discharging waste water.

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