No more closure for El Nido, but some areas declared off-limits to swimmers

CNN Philippines Staff

The government will not be closing off El Nido in Palawan to tourists, but swimming would be banned in some parts of the island.

Environment Secretary Roy Cimatu announced on Thursday that authorities will temporarily ban swimming in Bacuit Bay. Tourism Secretary Bernadette Romulo-Puyat added identified the areas as the Corong Corong outfall, Cabugao outfall, Masagana outfall, and at the El Nido estero.

An outfall refers to the area where water from rivers or sewers flows out into the sea.

“We cannot allow na mag-deteriorate ang El Nido into another Boracay,” Cimatu said in a joint briefing on Thursday.

Palawan is a popular spot for visitors looking for pristine beaches. It has been often named by international tourism groups as one of the world’s best islands. Bacuit Bay is popular among island-hoppers as it boasts turquoise waters and rich marine life. 

Last week, the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) recommended a three-month shutdown of these spots in El Nido due to clean up the island. The DILG said waters in Bacuit Bay and Corong Corong Outfall are in “dreadful condition”, noting fecal particles at 3.4 million most probable number (mpn) per 100 milliliters, versus the safe level of 100mpn.

Still, swimming ban is a softer response compared to the closure of the entire Boracay Island from April to October last year after President Rodrigo Duterte called it a “cesspool.”

Officials previously shuttered several establishments in El Nido for violating environmental laws. Cimatu said a task force will be created to check the compliance of houses and other businesses in the area.

About 90 percent of the establishments operating in El Nido are non-compliant with environmental regulations, Cimatu added, with some located in the forest while others are not registered with the Department of Tourism. They are given up to 20 days to comply with existing rules, or else face sanctions from the DILG.

Meanwhile, Cimatu clarified that all other bodies of water in the island, including the lagoons, passed quality standards.

CNN Philippines Correspondent Carolyn Bonquin contributed to this report.

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