Jasmine’s Return To 2018’s Island Crush, Siargao—Can It Ride The Daunting Wave Of Urban Development?
Siargao’s best-supporting actress, Jasmine Curtis-Smith, arises in one gorgeous editorial feature In Metro magazine’s March issue, shot right where it all started. To say she was well-received by Siargao locals after the success of their movie would be a huge understatement; just three words, TBH —they love her. “It’s weird because people recognize me, Erich, and Echo, as people who gave extra life to their island, as people who gave it a wider audience,” Jasmine shares. “Iba rin ‘yung smile nila sa amin. Iba din ‘yung ‘Hi Ma’am’ na parang mas may bigat. Mas may love.”
Siargao’s popularity as a beach destination in Surigao del Norte has without question shot into full bloom. A major factor that helped put this proverbial tropical paradise on the digital map was a gradual build-up of quality social media posts by captivated visitors over the last few years. Tourists, influencers, and celebrities have posted about the tear-shaped island’s pristine 437 square kilometers with all its picturesque portions and untainted shorelines. These days avid surfers can’t get enough of the coast with its robust, tight waves and the requisite wide angle photo-op at Cloud 9 in your best bikini has become a huge thing. Amidst all the isle trends this happened, too; one award-winning movie was produced, the island’s namesake, celebrating its vibrant flora and fauna plus a bit of that island life. With one sweep of the release of Paul Soriano’s film, Siargao now finds itself at the top of the list of the country’s hottest beaches.
Following the movie’s well-earned attention the foreboding in the minds of Siargao’s locals and beloved regulars involves its future. Small businesses are sprouting, eager developers are lurking; this wouldn’t be a problem if the tourism scene locally worked in a totally different way. With development however comes the sinking feeling of dread, unfortunately. The plight of Boracay and even other places like Panglao having been slapped with the label “cesspool” from the very top. It has left a mark of consciousness about other far-flung places that haven’t yet suffered from the same spoiling. While we feel it way over here by mere observation, what more for those who call Siargao their home?
Manuel “Wilmar” Melindo, Siargao’s very own living surfing legend, can’t help but express and post about his own genuine concern for his home. Known for his mastery of riding the biggest and most challenging swells Wilmar is a tried and “toasted” local surfing icon in his own right. His intermittent posts on social media with calls to action to protect Siargao have also caught the public’s attention.
Wilmar openly shared his point of view as a resident and current facts about the situation. “Bago nag-umpisa yung Siargao movie ay meron ng organization tungkol doon sa environment awareness; yung SEA (Siargao Environmental Awareness movement)…kasama na ako doon sa nag-organize at pati yung ibang resort owners (Siargao Tourism Operators Association). Noong time na ‘yun, may mga beach cleanup once a week dahil medyo natakot na kami.”
Wilmar is deeply concerned for the possible outcome in his hometown “At isa ko rin na kinatatakutan ay yung walang tamang waste management at yung maling paggawa ng CR. Alam ko na babalik ito sa amin, ang mga dumi, wala kasi kaming malaking bundok para magbigay ng malinis na tubig. Lahat ng tubig namin ay nanggagaling sa ground.” While the concerns arise, there are advocacy groups that have been established to protect Siargao. A few have been around for a couple of years. Beach cleanups are aplenty but certainly not enough. “Maraming mga grupo ng environmentalist gaya ng SEA movement, Gromm Nation Siargao, Siargao Tourism Operators Association at ibang mga foreign tourist para lang doon sa Siargao environment awareness,” Wilmar shares.
Groups like the S.E.A. movement consist of transient residents, business owners, and permanent locals who have banded together to protect the island. It also happens to be a network hub for people with varied skills like artists, writers, and athletes who all wish to help in the environmental cause with their talents. They initiate beach cleanups and schedule different events and environmental talks every now and then. The group primarily consisting of expatriates and resort owners is the Siargao Tourism Operators’ Association which aims to bridge communication between government authorities and private businesses so that policy-making is well-aligned. However, Wilmar mentions that local government which is supposed to implement any agreed-on policies lack the resources, consistency, and manpower to be able to carry out maintenance systems.
Gianni Grifoni, owner and founder of Kermit Siargao Surf Resort & Restaurant is an Italian-Swiss resident of the island. By profession he is quite the multi-hyphenate being a biologist, dive instructor, surfer, and chef. To quote Conde Nast Traveler on Gianni’s prospering establishment “Owned by an Italian ex-pat and outfitted with a brick oven imported from Italy, Kermit’s serves up what might be the best pizza and fresh-made pastas in the country.”
Gianni may have foreign blood but he’s a sure-bet Siargao local at heart. His environmental concern is aligned with Wilmar’s. Gianni feels that development in Siargao is moving way too fast and the island isn’t ready just yet to take on more mass construction projects and accommodate more people. “Siargao is developing with businesses too quickly. The island can’t keep it up with it without a proper plan,” Gianni explains, “There is no waste management, no sewage system, and people keep adding cement and buildings which are destroying its super fragile ecosystem. Here’s an example of what Siargao is like now; try to put a group of 20 people in a room with five beds and one bathroom, it will be a mess and dirty, right?”
In the Philippines the success of local tourism apparently isn’t properly measured by the economic growth or profit of a specific location, but rather by the vast number of visitors it can accommodate in addition to an area’s own population. This presents local communities of well-loved spots like Siargao with a huge waste management conundrum since they are often overwhelmed by tourists during certain seasons. Should authorities and locals wait until Siargao reels from filth and gets threatened with tourism closure like Boracay? Need it reach the point of no return before anything is done?
Photos from @metromagph, @manuelmelindo, @sleepeatsurf and @studioguerrero