Photo Credit: Ian Sermonia
Here is the side of tourism that nobody likes to talk about. Where there are tourists, there is trash.
A summer music festival, a movie production, and an international surf competition— accompanied by more direct flights to Siargao— all show that there is no shortage of tourism projects on the island. While resorts, hostels, and homestays have stayed fully booked, and many local surf businesses have thrived, there remains a glaring waste management problem across Siargao.
Facing the facts: the lack of proper solid waste management
According to a 2017 report by the Siargao Tourism Operators Association (STOA), solid waste management and disposal is the #1 challenge to the conservation of Siargao’s resources. If left unsolved, the trash situation will also be the #1 hindrance to the development of the island.
The increase in trash has further skewed the garbage collection efforts by the local government. In a recent survey conducted by STOA, only 14% of members get their trash collected on schedule. Despite paying for garbage tax, a majority of 38% don’t receive proper trash collection services at all. Others say they receive the service irregularly, while some have to tip the garbage collectors in order to be served.
Areal shot taken from Gianni Grifoni of Kermit Surf & Dive Eco Camp | Credit: @anaisway
When the trash is collected, where does it go? The lack of a proper solid waste management facility is another major problem in Siargao. Without proper guidance, unsanctioned practices such as the burning of plastic waste endanger the lives of locals and tourists alike.
While it seems like Siargao is on its way to becoming the next polluted paradise, it has something that previous beach destinations did not have at the peak of their development. Siargao has a growing community of locals, residents, business owners, and stakeholders who are working together to protect the future of Siargao.
The Siargao Environmental Awareness (SEA) Movement is a community-driven movement committed to raising the quality of life of the present and future Siargao populations. By working together with key groups such as STOA, local businesses, and the local government, the SEA Movement will initiate and execute projects on sustainable development and responsible tourism across the island.
One of their long-term projects involves lobbying for a Plastic-Free Siargao. When the local ordinance is approved, single-use plastics such as straws, take-out cups, and plastic bags will finally be banned across General Luna. If the petition, research, and legal consultations all go unimpeded, Siargao should be plastic-free by 2018.
Another long-term solution is called Siargao Green, a world-class material recovery facility that will meet the recycling needs of the entire island. Through this Filipino-owned and operated recycling plant, recyclable materials such as plastic, rubber, and glass can be broken down into smaller pieces that can be turned into new products such as clothing and accessories. These products can then be reused in the island or exported outside.
Percentage of sales made from the WSL Online Store and Kudo Surf sales will be donated to these projects.
The true foundation of these long-term projects is in what can be accomplished in the short run. Aside from holding regular beach cleanups, SEA Movement will continue to host workshops on segregation and recycling, as well as provide leadership training for youth and community leaders. If members of the community don’t understand the consequences of the rising plastic problem, no law or ordinance can be implemented well.
Youth groups play a large role in the future of Siargao’s cleanliness and success. This is why SEA Movement also invests in the education of future community leaders through book donation drives and eco-awareness programs. The SEA Patrol program involves a group of groms leading the beach cleanups along Cloud 9 and Tuason Point, their homebreaks. Screenings of environmental films such as A Plastic Ocean are also sponsored by the organization and are open to the public.
Through these initiatives, SEA Movement teaches the youth to become the next leaders of their community.
The 2017 International Women’s Surfing Cup last May 2-6, 2017 was a landmark in local surfing history not only because it was the first ever WSL Qualifying Series (QS) event to be held in the country, but also because it was an event that discouraged single-use plastics. Instead of giving away plastic water bottles, SEA Movement allocated water refilling stations with reusable cups. This shows event organizers how zero waste can be attained.
The zero-waste mindset
During the women’s event, Kudo Surf, whose founders are also co-founders of SEA Movement, sponsored eco-friendly rash vests similar to the ones used in the WSL Championship Tour. Each eco-rashie is made from at least 11 plastic bottles and is printed using non-toxic ink.
All the contest banners were also made from plastic water bottle waste. After the event, the banners were turned over to local seamstresses to turn into boardshorts for Siargao groms who don’t have proper surf apparel.
Whether it’s creating boardshorts and rashguards from plastic bottles or reinventing female surf apparel through innovative surf suits, Kudo Surf is at the forefront of all things new and eco-friendly. Together with SEA Movement and key community groups, Siargao can champion sustainable ecotourism practices that the entire country can emulate.
Everyone can learn from Bali and Boracay. By working together to ban plastic and manage waste, Siargao can be the nation’s leader in sustainable tourism and development.
Help us keep Siargao safe and clean! Salamat karajaw!
To donate to SEA Movement for the funding of these projects, please go to this page.
All photos are from SEA Movement. Photos of kids with placards are by Matias Olivieri.
Words by Camille Pilar