MANILA, Philippines — Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has approved the closure of the tourist destination of Boracay for up to six months after saying the waters off its famed white-sand beaches had become a “cesspool” due to overcrowding and development.

Duterte approved the total shutdown of Boracay as a tourist destination starting April 26 in a Cabinet meeting Wednesday night after extensive discussions of its impact, including ways to help about 17,000 workers who may be displaced, tourism undersecretary Frederick Alegre said Thursday.

A similar decision was made in Thailand where Maya Bay, on Phi Phi Leh island in the Andaman Sea, will be closed for four months starting in June.

Many Thai marine parks close for part of the year but the release of the Leonardo DiCaprio movie, “The Beach,” in 2000 made picturesque Maya Bay so popular it stayed open year-round. It averages 200 boats and 4,000 visitors daily.

More than 2 million tourists visited Boracay last year to enjoy its powdery beaches, spectacular sunsets and festive nightlife, generating about $1 billion in revenue. But the influx of tourists, 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.

The island can only sustain 30,000 people but teems with 70,000 at any time, including 50,000 residents and daily arrivals of about 20,000 tourists, Alegre said.

Hundreds of settlers have also illegally built homes and structures in forests and protected wetlands over the years, officials said.

Philippine Airlines said it would reduce flights en route to airports serving as a gateway to the small island, about 196 miles south of Manila.

Deputy Executive Secretary Menardo Guevarra said emergency calamity funds would be used to help workers at tourist establishments affected by Boracay’s temporary closure.

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

A similar decision was made in Thailand where Maya Bay, on Phi Phi Leh island in the Andaman Sea, will be closed for four months starting in June.

Many Thai marine parks close for part of the year but the release of the Leonardo DiCaprio movie, “The Beach,” in 2000 made picturesque Maya Bay so popular it stayed open year-round. It averages 200 boats and 4,000 visitors daily, but recent surveys found the area’s coral reefs and sea life damaged or gone.

“This appears to simply be a case of over-development, poor government infrastructure planning and corruption, natural resource overuse, thereby straining the environment beyond its useable limits,” says Anthony Roman, a global risk-management expert and president of Roman and Associates in Lynbrook, N.Y.

News Reporter

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