POLA - Resorts in a Philippine province known for world-class beaches and dive spots are reeling from the impact of an oil spill just off the coastline, as tourists cancel reservations during what is supposed to be peak season.
Authorities are racing to recover a tanker that sank off Oriental Mindoro province carrying 800,000 litres (211,338 gallons) of industrial fuel oil when it suffered engine trouble on Feb. 28 in rough seas.
"We are saddened because all the tourists that booked us for the summer season and the upcoming Holy Week have already cancelled," said Marino Enriquez, a resort manager in the town of Pola.
"The effect is very extensive because there are no visitors arriving for vacation or to unwind, nobody is renting our cottages because of restrictions on swimming, there is nobody checking in since there is a stench, and the sand is filled with oil," said resort caretaker Rocela Lasac.
Volunteers have had to endure noxious fumes and use buckets to clean up beaches blackened by the spill, which experts have said threatens 36,000 hectares (88,958 acres) of coral reef, mangroves and sea-grass. Restrictions have been imposed on swimming and fishing in the affected area.
Restoring the beaches to their original pristine beauty will take several months while the clean-up is underway, authorities said.
Environmentalists were also worried about the oil spill's potential impact on marine life and on the livelihood of fishermen.
"The marine protected areas where the fish lay eggs, if those are destroyed we will lose the fish reserve in our ocean," Earth Island campaign manager and analyst Robert Medrano said.
(Editing by Karen Lema, Kanupriya Kapoor)