Whale shark ecotourism contributes to Filipino economy | WWF
Whale shark ecotourism contributes to Filipino economy

Posted on 27 September 2005

Swimming with whale sharks is contributing to the economy of the Philippines. But, income generated from this ecotourism activity needs to go back into local marine conservation efforts, according to a WWF study.
Donsol, the Philippines – Swimming with whale sharks is contributing to the economy of the Philippines.

According to government statistics, around 7,000 tourists travelled to Donsol, some 500km southeast of the capital, Manila, in 2005 to visit the 'gentle giants', earning PHP35 million (or US$623,000). 
 
The revenues accrued in the Philippines, however, are only a fraction of the whale shark tourism earnings of Ningaloo Reef in Australia and Gladden Spit Marine Reserves in Belize. Ningaloo generated US$7.8 million over a 2-month period, while Belize profited US$1.35 million in just 6 weeks. 
 
The whale shark (Rhincodon typus) is the world’s largest living fish, measuring up to 14m and weighing in at over 12 tonnes. Despite its name and enormous size, the whale shark is not a whale, but classified in a family of its own — Rhincodontidae — with its closest relatives being leopard sharks and nurse sharks.   
 
“The influx of tourists increases every year and this opens economic opportunities at the grassroots level,” said Ruel Pine, WWF-Philippines’ Community-based Ecotourism and Coastal Resource Management Project Manager. 
 
“Whale shark ecotourism has created 300 jobs in the municipality related to tour services, ranging from whale shark spotters to van drivers. However, of the revenue earned over the 6-month ecotourism season, Donsol’s local economy only retained 20% in terms of shared benefits.” 
 
A new WWF business plan development study shows that the capacity of ecotourism to generate income and employment for the local economy in Donsol was significantly reduced as a result of inadequate tourist facilities and other infrastructure failures. 
 
“The study will assist policy-makers and implementers to improve the financing structure that will ensure investment for coastal rehabilitation, which in turn will enhance the value of ecotourism and its management,” Pine said.

“The much-needed business plan will help prevent economic leaks locally by identifying and supporting more community-based enterprises.” 

WWF-Philippines, together with the Philippines Department of Tourism, is encouraging households to join home-stay programmes, and is looking into diversifying the local tourism portfolio. 
 
WWF-Philippines is calling for an improvement to the pricing structure when visiting whale sharks so that generated income can go back into conservation activities. Currently, the local government invests little in marine conservation. WWF is also working with local fishing communities on a fisheries management plan which will address such marine issues as illegal fishing and the exploitation of fishery resources — issues that could effect the whale shark's habitat and overall future in Donsol’s waters. 

END NOTES:

• Whale sharks are found throughout tropical waters and have been seen in many parts of the Philippines, particularly in Donsol, some 500km southeast of the capital, Manila. Tourists flock to Donsol between the months of January and June, the time when the spotted giants usually appear. Tourists are allowed to swim with them as long as they follow strict rules, keep their distance, and don't use scuba gear.  

• The waters around Donsol are part of the Sulu-Sulawesi Seas ecoregion, one of WWF's Global 200 ecoregions — a science-based global ranking of the world's most biologically outstanding habitats and the regions on which WWF concentrates its efforts.

For more information:
Ruel Pine, Community-based Ecotourism and
Coastal Resource Management Project Manager
WWF-Philippines
Tel: +632 920 7923
E-Mail: rpine@wwf.org.ph 

Louella Beltran, Media Officer
WWF-Philippines
Tel: +632 920 7923 
E-mail: lbeltran@wwf.org.ph 
Despite its name and enormous size, the whale shark is not a whale, but classified in a family of its own — Rhincodontidae — with its closest relatives being leopard sharks and nurse sharks.
© WWF / Javier ORDÓÑEZ