In the Philippines, forests have become denuded due to logging and mining concessions, while coastal areas have been polluted and destroyed due to navigational accidents and destructive fishing methods. Fisheries resources have been plummeting and recovery has been deemed to be unsuccessful as fisher folks continue to fish endlessly. Fish stocks have difficulty in recovering, and as a result, catch composition have shifted. Thus, in light of the recent occurrences of fish stock depletion, many communities have realized that exploiting environmental resources is no longer sustainable. With this realization, an alternative livelihood such as tourism is very important.
Tourism is highly valued in the Philippines. The country is endowed with vast coastal areas with a coastline summing up to 17,460 km. It is known for having one of the most ecologically rich coastal resources in terms of diversity and endemicity. (BFAR 2003, http://www.haribon.org).
Biggest fish in the World
The whale shark, Rhincodon typus (Rhiniodon typus), the largest fish in the world circumnavigates in subtropical to tropical climates (Figure 1). It is of high importance in fisheries and in industries because of its liver oil. This slow swimming and harmless shark is a filter feeder that depends on plankton and krill (www.fishbase.org). It swims to the Philippines to feed and mate with its kind.
Whale Shark Capital of the Philippines
The whale shark, just like in other countries in Asia has been captured by commercial fishers. However, in the small town of Donsol in Sorsogon province, the gentle giant or locally known as the butanding has become one of the most loved animals. Donsol locals have started to protect it rather than capturing it. In 1998, with the assistance of the World Wildlife Fund – Philippines and the Department of the Environment and Natural Resources, the town has instituted the protection of the shark through ecotourism (www.donsol.gov.ph, http://www.wwf.org.ph).
Since these fish are passive and slow swimming, whale shark interactions has been made as the tourist attraction in Donsol. Selected fishermen have been educated and trained on how to handle and behave around whale sharks and on safety protocols for tourists as well. The fishermen which were highly dependent on fishing, now has an alternative livelihood by serving as Butanding Interaction Officers from the months of November to May. This form of ecotourism has not only been significant in protecting whale shark populations in Donsol and in the Philippines as a whole, but served as good information, education, communication (IEC) campaign not only to the townsfolk but to all the tourists that have come there as well (www.donsol.gov.ph, http://www.wwf.org.ph).
Other means aside from Whale Sharks
Swimming with the whale sharks has been ranked as the Best Animal Encounter in Asia as stated in the Time Magazine in 2004 (en.wikipedia.org). Because of this popularity and the frequency of the whale sharks venturing in the Donsol, the locals have come up with other ways of improving their tourism services. Aside from establishing more resorts and accommodations, other tourist attractions were added to make more revenues for the town. Additional attractions that were set up as packages aside from the butanding interactions were firefly and bird watching and diving in Ticao Pass (www.donsol.gov.ph).
Bird watching is very popular in the Philippines, since many areas in the country have been named as Important Bird Areas by BirdLife International (www.haribon.org.ph). Donsol, even if not named as an IBA still has numerous bird species that could fascinate a beginner or an avid bird watcher. Firefly populations have been dwindling in the whole world due to development. However the fireflies in Donsol river is so many that one who watches them might think that mangrove trees are burning because of them. The firefly watching is a night activity that starts with a boat ride under the stars from the beach area of a tourist resort to the river. The Philippines is famous for its coral reefs. Ticao Pass which can be accessed through Donsol is ventured by advanced divers for its strong currents and manta rays and thresher sharks (www.donsol.gov.ph).
Community-based Ecotourism and CRM
Donsol has come a long way from protecting an endangered species to providing locals alternative means of livelihood. They have begun to learn the value of their ecosystems and their resources and thus have been very adamant when it comes to protecting these resources. Hopefully, more coastal communities in the Philippines take the example of the community involvement if not in ecotourism but in coastal resource management. Hopefully, other communities begin to realize the importance of habitats and resources and not just think practically, or commonly succumb to the ‘tragedy of commons’.
BFAR. 2003. Fisheries Statistics Profile. http://www.bfar.gov.ph/FishProf.asp
Froese, R. and D. Pauly. Editors. 2007.FishBase. http:// http://www.fishbase.org, ver (04/2007).
Haribon. 2005. Ang Paraisong Pinaka… a showcase of superlatives. http://www.haribon.org.ph/?q=node/view/216.
Municipality of Donsol, Province of Sorsogon, Philippines. http://www.donsol.gov.ph
Wikipedia. 2007. Donsol. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Donsol,_Sorsogon.
World Wildlife Fund for Nature – Philippines. 2004. Community-Based Ecotourism and Coastal Resources Management Project in Donsol, Sorsogon. http://www.wwf.org.ph/about.php?pg=wwd&sub1=00011