Donsol Community-Based Whale Shark Ecotourism and Coastal Resource Management
Asia/Pacific > Southeast Asia > Philippines
Since 1998, WWF Philippines has assisted the Donsol local government unit (LGU) to protect whale sharks and develop a community-based whale shark ecotourism programme for the municipality.
The Donsol whale shark ecotourism programme is currently the primary tourist destination for Region V and was awarded the Kalakbay Award for the best ecotourism destination for 2003. In 2004, Time magazine voted Donsol as the best destination for an animal encounter in Asia.
In 1998, Donsol, Sorsogon, a town at the southern terminus of the Bicol peninsula, reported of big aggregation of whale sharks in the municipal waters of Donsol. These sightings were followed by a tourism boom in the area. The LGU promptly passed a municipal resolution declaring its waters a sanctuary for the whale sharks.
However, the news not only attracted tourists but also Manila-based shark traders. The slaughter of at least 6 whale sharks received massive media coverage, resulting in a series of events, including the issuance of the Department of Agriculture's Fisheries Administrative Order nr 193 (FAO 193, series of 1998).
FAO 193 bans the taking, catching, selling, purchasing, possessing, transporting or exporting of whale sharks and manta rays and, ultimately, the establishment of a complete ban for the fishery and trade of whale sharks in the country.
At that time, Donsol had no experience in tourism. Nevertheless, the LGU of Donsol responded positively by leading coordination with various sectors from national government agencies and private groups. WWF Philippines committed itself to provide assistance in the conservation aspects of whale shark tourism. Through the support of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the Butanding Ecotourism Development Project was implemented in the same year.
The project was able to establish a community-based ecotourism programme, with a total of 5,811 tourists interacting with whale sharks from 2000 to 2003. This generated about PHP 850,530 for the LGU and about PHP 3.3 million from boat rentals and guide fees to the local community.
The whale shark Rhincodon typus is considered not only the world's largest living fish, but also one of the most celebrated marine species because of its value. In the international market, whale shark meat commands a price from USD 4.8 per kg to USD 16.7 per kg. Fins can go as high as USD 744 per kg.
With highest reported total length of about 18m, the species is thought to be cosmopolitan in distribution, occurring in all tropical and warm temperate areas. Whale sharks feed primarily on plankton, microscopic creatures that are found only in healthy oceans.
Though long-lived (up to 100 years), the animal has long gestation period and low reproduction rate. The conservation implication is that the population is vulnerable to activities that indiscriminately decrease their numbers. The species has already been classified vulnerable based on world records of declining catches and abundance during, and following, targeted fisheries.
As more tourists are drawn to Donsol for whale shark tourism, and as more local sectors enjoy the benefits of whale shark tourism, the challenges for its sustainability also grow. Tourism rakes in revenue as well as human-induced impacts. If left unchecked and unregulated, this may lead to indirect but long-term effects on the whale shark populations and its habitat.
Commercial fishing vessels continue to encroach the municipal waters of Donsol. This practice endangers the fishery and the food security of the coastal communities who depend on it.
Maintain healthy and viable populations of whale sharks for the benefit of coastal communities through the management of its coastal resources
- Work with LGUs to expand coastal resources management to 8 barangays and to the neighbouring town of Pilar.
- Assist in the establishment of enforcement units to protect its waters and build legal and institutional capacities for local institutions.
- Continue to strengthen whale shark-based ecotourism to create sustainable incentives for its protection.
- Strengthen enforcement capacities, enhance tourism operations, strengthen solid waste management and institutional mechanisms.
- Provide ongoing patrols and enforcement logistical support, mid-term evaluation and technical assistance.