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Boracay’s White Sands

By Dadmar Amores Boracay, a gem of the Philippine archipelago, boasts a fragile beauty, with its greatest asset being the pristine white sands encircling the island, notably along the four-kilometer stretch known as White Beach—an iconic haven acknowledged as one of the world's most breathtaking coastlines, a testament to the delicate interplay of geological forces and human interaction.


In the realm of geology, the late Dr. Raymundo R. Punongbayan, then Director of Philippine Institute of Volcanology (PHILVOLCS), a revered figure in Philippine geology, embarked on a scientific analysis, delving into the intricacies of Boracay's geological makeup that he articulated as, "The most important geological item in Boracay are the white sandy beach deposits." In recognizing the island's vulnerability to natural erosion and the impact of human activities, his work underscored the significance of understanding and preserving this fragile ecosystem.


The Boracay Tourism Master Plan, commissioned by the Department of Tourism (DOT) in the late 1980s, included a rigorous, scientific, socio- cultural economic survey and assessment of the fast rising tourist destination authored by  competent authorities in their respective fields.  It was a chapter in this master plan that became a pioneering effort to unravel the geological mysteries of the island authored Dr. Punongbayan that covered diverse aspects, including the island's origin, active faults, seismicity, sinkholes and salt intrusion, with a substantial focus on the enigmatic white sandy beach deposits.   Unfortunately the comprehensive master plan became irrelevant when the Local Government Code (RA 7160) was enacted in 1991 transferring development planning powers to local government units.


In contemplating the geological wonder of Boracay's white sands, Dr. Punongbayan debunked prevalent myths. He dispelled the notion that lumot (seaweed) was the eternal source of the famed powdery sand, clarifying the true origin derived from “coralline fragments sculpted by wave actions from the surrounding fringing reefs.”

Dr. Punongbayan demystified the intricate process behind the formation and behavior of Boracay's sands. "Waves would roll, drag and rub these fragments against each other and ultimately deliver the sand size fraction to the beach zone," he explained. Longshore currents played a pivotal role, orchestrating the seasonal migration of sand particles, acting as a natural shield against the forces of nature.

“Along the beach zone, further wave actions would reduce the size and angularity of the coral sands.  Longshore currents induce the deposited sandy materials along the southwestern shores of Boracay to migrate towards the northwest when the prevailing winds are from the southwest and those along the northeastern shores to move towards the southeast during the northeast monsoon.”


Notably, Dr. Punongbayan addressed the escalating at that time, demand for these sands. He astutely observed people collecting sands for aquariums and the soaring demand for Puka shells in Manila. His concern echoed in his words: "Nor there should man-made structure be allowed to be placed orthogonally across the coastline of Boracay." to arrest the northwestward and southeastward migration of sandy coralline grains to replace those that were forced by longshore currents to tumble  towards the deeper bottom of the Sibuyan Sea.”


The urgency to preserve the natural movement of these sands to counteract the impacts of strong winds became evident.


The vulnerability of Punta Bunga, where prominent establishments like Club Panoly (now Movenpick) and Shangri-La stand, was highlighted. Dr. Punongbayan elucidated how longshore currents contribute to the reduction in particle size, resulting in Punta Bunga's fine-grained, almost powdery beach sand deposit.


In essence, Boracay's white sands are not merely a picturesque spectacle but a delicate equilibrium sculpted by nature's hand. Dr. Punongbayan's work serves as a beacon, reminding us of the intrinsic value in understanding, respecting, and conserving the geological treasures that grace this idyllic paradise.

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