Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Donsol, the town built on Whale sharks

Another example of the good that tourism can do for wildlife, conservation and communities
November 2012. What a big difference conservation makes. Barely 15 years ago, the Philippines coastal town of Donsol was a 5th class rural municipality - where weathered vehicles spurred swirling clouds on dusty, unpaved roads. Sitting 540 kilometres southeast of Manila, the Donsol of the early 1990s was a relaxed and reticent town of fisherfolk and farmers.
1998 - Amateur video of Whale sharks
Donsol finally embraced destiny in 1998 - when an amateur home-video brought to Manila by diver David Duran revealed Whale sharks (Rhincodon typus) - Earth's largest fish species - swimming and feeding right in the Bay. Back then, the world's most popular Whale shark tour was still in Ningaloo Reef, off the western coast of Australia. Aside from being rather pricey ($350 to $500) per head), interactions were not guaranteed.
Though occasionally gathering in other spots such as Australia, Mexico and parts of Africa, Donsol's Whale sharks mostly keep within a kilometre from shore, perfect for gutsy tourists bearing snorkels and masks. With strong government leadership and the support of the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), the townsfolk of Donsol took the plunge - and entered the history books.
Photo ID
Since 1998, WWF-Philippines has been spearheading a holistic conservation program which ranges from satellite tagging and photo-identification to the effective management of tourism impacts. Current efforts are supported by WWF-Denmark, ECOCEAN, the Hubbs Sea World Research Institute (HSWRI), CERTINA and Banco de Oro Unibank (BDO) and include vigorous environmental education drives to transform public school children into ecological champions.
25000 visitors per year
Today Donsol receives an average of 25,000 visitors each summer - a sharp contrast to the 867 recorded in 2002. Sailing on the influx of tourists, boat trips rose from barely 340 in 2002 to over 5300 per season. For the Philippines, Donsol has indeed become whale shark central.

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