Workers head home, look for other jobs as Boracay closes

A worker displaced by Boracay's temporary closure receives financial assistance from the government as they prepare to leave the island following its temporary closure on Thursday, April 26, 2018 in central Aklan province, Philippines. Many workers in the island are now jobless as Boracay, famed for its powdery white-sand beaches, closes today for up to six months to recover from overcrowding and development. (AP Photo/Aaron Favila)
Tourists and resident walk along the almost empty beachfront as the government implements the temporary closure of the country's most famous beach resort island of Boracay, in central Aklan province, Philippines, Thursday, April 26, 2018. Boracay, famed for its white-sand beaches, closes for up to six months to recover from overcrowding and development. (AP Photo/Aaron Favila)
Residents collect seaweeds during a clean up drive along the beachfront as the government implements the temporary closure of the country's most famous beach resort island of Boracay, in central Aklan province, Philippines, Thursday, April 26, 2018. Boracay, famed for its white-sand beaches, closes for up to six months to recover from overcrowding and development. (AP Photo/Aaron Favila)
A Filipino couple walks beside a no swim zone as the government implements the temporary closure of the country's most famous beach resort island of Boracay, in central Aklan province, Philippines, on Thursday, April 26, 2018. Boracay, famed for its white-sand beaches, closes for up to six months to recover from overcrowding and development. (AP Photo/Aaron Favila)
An empty beachfront lies at the no swim zone as the government implements the temporary closure of the country's most famous beach resort island of Boracay, in central Aklan province, Philippines, on Thursday, April 26, 2018. Boracay, famed for its white-sand beaches, closes for up to six months to recover from overcrowding and development. (AP Photo/Aaron Favila)
Filipinos work on a road widening project as the government implements the temporary closure of the country's most famous beach resort island of Boracay, in central Aklan province, Philippines, on Thursday, April 26, 2018. Many workers in the island are now jobless as Boracay, famed for its white-sand beaches, closes for up to six months to recover from overcrowding and development. (AP Photo/Aaron Favila)
Policemen patrol the beachfront using all-terrain vehicles as the government implements the temporary closure of the country's most famous beach resort island of Boracay, in central Aklan province, Philippines, Thursday, April 26, 2018. Boracay, famed for its powdery white-sand beaches, closes for up to six months to recover from overcrowding and development. (AP Photo/Aaron Favila)
A worker signals a backhoe operator during a pipeline project along the beachfront as the government implements the temporary closure of the country's most famous beach resort island of Boracay, in central Aklan province, Philippines, Thursday, April 26, 2018. Boracay, famed for its white-sand beaches, closes for up to six months to recover from overcrowding and development. (AP Photo/Aaron Favila)
A closed sign hangs on the window of a beachfront shop as the government implements the temporary closure of the country's most famous beach resort island of Boracay, in central Aklan province, Philippines, Thursday, April 26, 2018. Boracay, famed for its white-sand beaches, closes for up to six months to recover from overcrowding and development. (AP Photo/Aaron Favila)
A resident collects seaweeds during a clean up drive along the beachfront as the government implements the temporary closure of the country's most famous beach resort island of Boracay, in central Aklan province, Philippines, Thursday, April 26, 2018. Boracay, famed for its white-sand beaches, closes for up to six months to recover from overcrowding and development. (AP Photo/Aaron Favila)
Policemen collect seaweeds during a clean up drive along the beachfront as the government implements the temporary closure of the country's most famous beach resort island of Boracay, in central Aklan province, Philippines, Thursday, April 26, 2018. Boracay, famed for its white-sand beaches, closes for up to six months to recover from overcrowding and development. (AP Photo/Aaron Favila)
Filipino workers destroy structures of a house that are affected by a road widening project as the government implements the temporary closure of the country's most famous beach resort island of Boracay, in central Aklan province, Philippines, on Thursday, April 26, 2018. Many workers in the island are now jobless as Boracay, famed for its white-sand beaches, closes for up to six months to recover from overcrowding and development. (AP Photo/Aaron Favila)
Policemen collect seaweeds during a clean up drive along the beachfront as the government implements the temporary closure of the country's most famous beach resort island of Boracay, in central Aklan province, Philippines, Thursday, April 26, 2018. Boracay, famed for its white-sand beaches, closes for up to six months to recover from overcrowding and development. (AP Photo/Aaron Favila)
Filipino cook Marlon Laguna, left, sits outside their closed beachfront restaurant as the government implements the temporary closure of the country's most famous beach resort island of Boracay, in central Aklan province, Philippines, on Thursday, April 26, 2018. Many workers in the island are now jobless as Boracay, famed for its white-sand beaches, closes for up to six months to recover from overcrowding and development. (AP Photo/Aaron Favila)
Filipinos clean surfboards outside their closed shop as the government implements the temporary closure of the country's most famous beach resort island of Boracay, in central Aklan province, Philippines, Thursday, April 26, 2018. Boracay, famed for its white-sand beaches, closes for up to six months to recover from overcrowding and development. (AP Photo/Aaron Favila)

BORACAY, Philippines — The cooks, hotel workers and other Filipinos who served tourists at the country's most popular beach headed home and started looking for other work Thursday as police guarded the empty beach on the first day of a shutdown intended to let Boracay's waters recover from overcrowding and development.

Police on the empty, white-sand beach turned away tourists trying to take a dip in the turquoise waters, and once-busy stores and restaurants stood closed.

"It's painful for us to lose our jobs and it's so sudden," said canteen cook Marlon Laguna, 47, outside the closed beachfront restaurant. "Even though I don't have my own family, I support my siblings. ... We cannot do anything but to accept it."

The island will be shut to visitors for up to six months while sewage containment and other work is done to clean up the waters President Rodrigo Duterte had called a cesspool.

The work was already underway Thursday. Police and residents were collecting seaweed in a cleanup drive on the beachfront, pipes were being laid, and construction had begun to widen the island's main road. Some roadside structures were being demolished to make way.

Workers now out of jobs said they will look for other work to ride out the time the island is shut to tourists.

About 17,000 are employed in Boracay's tourist establishments, and 10,000 to 12,000 others benefit from the bustling tourism business.

Displaced workers flocked to the Department of Social welfare operation center to get travel allowance for them to go home to their provinces.

"I am thankful that the government gave us travel allowance, even if we do not have a job anymore," said construction worker Jomar Incierto, 27, who was among those receiving the cash assistance.

More than 2 million tourists visited Boracay last year, generating about 56 billion pesos (1 billion US dollars) in revenue. But the influx, neglected infrastructure and growth of resort establishments and poor settlements have threatened to turn Boracay into a "dead island" in less than a decade, according to a government study. Settlers who've built illegal structures in forests and wetlands have added to the problems.

Less than half the establishments are connected to the island's main sewage treatment plant, with many of the rest possibly maintaining crude septic tanks and others discharging their waste directly into the sea, said Frederick Alegre, assistant secretary at the Department of Tourism.

Parts of the island could re-open earlier than six months if sewage treatment systems could be built earlier and beach resorts comply with environmental regulations, he said.

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