Whale Sharks Bring Prosperity And Problems To Philippines

The whale sharks of Donsol are proving a huge tourist attraction for the Philippines – but they are also bringing new problems for the tiny town to cope with

I wrote a while ago about wanting to visit the town of Donsol in the Philippines, which has become famous in the last 10 years due to the annual migration of whale sharks there every April. South Africa’s Mail & Guardian Online has an excellent article about how the whale sharks have changed the fortunes of the town by bringing thousands of tourists to the area who want to see these amazing creatures – and also preserved the lives of the sharks themselves as fisherman realised they have more value alive as a tourist attraction.

However, the town’s new found prosperity brings growing pains with it – not only providing quality accommodation for the 7000+ tourists who came last year but also combatting poachers and avoiding damaging the very environment that has allowed the whale sharks to thrive here. Already the local mayor has halved the amount of boats allowed out to see the sharks at any one time – to 25, while tourists have to watch a video about protecting the whale sharks before they go looking for them. It’s all heartening stuff, but how well such measures will continue in the face of economic pressure to change remains to be seen.

Here’s a great quote from the article:

Twenty-three other boats bobbed in the waters off Donsol. Most
sputtered back to shore by lunch, each encountering five to 10 whale
sharks.

“It was sort of scary because out of nowhere came this huge, square
face,” said Eliot Bikales, a housewife from Hamden, Connecticut.

“It was like Jaws,” her 10-year-old daughter, Maral, butted
in. But she said that after her fears eased, “it was OK. It felt like
they were my friends.”

Sid Lucero, a young Filipino actor, said facing such a huge creature nearly moved him to tears.

“It hit me straight in the heart,” he said. “Looking at this huge
creature reminded me that there is a higher being.” Thanks to the new
tourism, the sharks have created about 1 000 seasonal jobs in Donsol, a
poor farming and fishing town of about 40 000 people once said to have
been a communist rebel stronghold.



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