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Southeast Asia fights back! How countries battle pollution and overtourism

Bali, Phuket, Halong Bay, and Boracay used to be paradises on earth but now feature throng of crowds, heavy traffic, and shores defiled with trash.

Our holidays could be ruined by over-tourism and pollution. Surprisingly, some Southeast Asian countries chose not to watch the further degradation of the environment. Here’s what some nations are doing to achieve their sustainable development goals:


Maya Bay closure

Thailand has seen the detrimental effects of overtourism and it has closed the famous Maya Bay that appeared in Leonardo DiCaprio’s movie The Beach. Maya Bay has been off-limits to tourists since 1 June 2018 for a four-month rejuvenation program aimed at reviving the area’s decimated corals and installing additional boat jetties, among other activities.

The tourist destination was expected to reopen on 30 September 2018, which did not happen. DNP announced that the ecosystem requires more time to recover.

Maya Bay is part of Thailand’s Hat Noppharat Thara-Mu Ko Phi Phi National Park, which welcomed more than two million tourists in 2017. An increase of half a million is expected this year.

Although there are no residents in this small island, boatloads of visitors poured in to sunbathe, snorkel and take pictures. Many visitors to the area are daytrippers from Phuket, which is less than an hour’s ride away by speedboat.

Air pollution

Earlier this month, Thailand’s capital suffered hazy days and choking air when the Air Quality Index (AQI) reading spiked over the dangerous levels. Pollution has built overhead Bangkok where no heavy, air-cleansing rain has occurred since 29 December. The cool and dry, cloudy weather reportedly trapped emissions from area factories and vehicles have built up in the lower atmosphere leading to a “smog”.

The government deployed the fire department and drones to spray water to help particles in air descend. However, this action is like putting bandaid on a wound and a well-thought, long term solution is needed to combat Bangkok’s growing problem in air pollution.

The government reportedly has begun planning ahead for the next “smog season” in Bangkok. Authorities are preparing a graduated system of emergency responses and possibly a major upgrade for the transport sector.

Natural Resources and Environment Ministry Permanent Secretary Wijarn Simachaya yesterday announced that Thailand would follow South Korea’s example in tackling harmful PM2.5 dust.

“I learned that South Korea has a set of procedures to guide agencies on how strictly they should enforce environmental-protection regulations and execute measures to reduce the release of pollution at every source, based on the severity of the smog situation at any given time,” he said.


Waterways and Manila Bay clean up

After its successful feat with Boracay Island, authorities turned their attention back to the nation’s capital and tackling the rubbish polluting the waterways and Manila Bay. Manila Bay is a historical and tourist landmark in the Philippines. However, its beauty is marred from tons of waste.

The cleanup kicked off on 27 January and has removed tons of garbage. The initial clean-up was well received by Manileños. For the first time in a long time, people go to Manila Bay to marvel at it.

“We have to clean all 47 esteros and all the rivers that contribute to the pollution of Manila Bay,” Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) Secretary Roy Cimatu said.

“Once we clean the esteros and rivers, garbage will not go out to Manila Bay. We’ll make it a point that the water that reaches Manila Bay is clean,” he added.

Green jobs

The Philippine government is also encouraging companies to create “green jobs” or occupations that protect ecosystems and biodiversity; reduce energy, materials, and water consumption; decarbonise the economy, and minimise or avoid generation of all forms of water and pollution.

Companies that offer green jobs are given tax incentives. Moreover, the government will offer support to the companies in the creation of these jobs.

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