By Danny O. Calleja
DONSOL, Sorsogon (15-March-12/PNA)- For the local government in this “Whale Shark Capital of the World”, the multi-pronged development and preservation efforts for the protection of its marine resources are not enough to sustain the town’s tourism industry.
Believing so, the municipal government over the week set its sights on the commitment to have a sense of urgency in showing how tourism in the locality should be valued with discipline particularly in the conservation and preservation of local marine resources focused on sustaining the town’s being a prime ecotourism destination.
The local government would be providing heightened security to tourists while treating them with more respect as strict implementation of tourism rules and protection of the whale sharks is observed based on the newly formulated Whale Shark Code of Conduct (WSCC).
Recently formulated by the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) regional office for Bicol through and the National Fisheries and Aquatic Resources Management Council-Programme Management Centre (NFARMC-PMC), the WSCC seeks to ensure the protection of whale sharks as well as the safety of people, mostly tourists fascinated by having close underwater encounters with them.
Its formulation was inspired by international policies and actual experiences here and apart from the “dos and don’ts” in dealing with the whale sharks, the code also carries with it the Standard Operating Protocol (SOP) in responding to standing incidents of the endangered giant marine mammal and similar species.
The Protocol was put together during past conferences among representatives from the World Wildlife Fund (WWF)-Philippines, Fisheries Regional Emergency Stranding Response Team, Department of Tourism (DOT), Regional Fisheries and Aquatic Resources Management Council (RFARMC) and the municipal government.
Mayor Jerome Alcantara said “diving with whale sharks in their natural environment is a breathtaking and rewarding experience as this world’s biggest fish glides slowly but gracefully past, resplendent in its dappled skin, within touching distance and impassive to the presence of the onlooker.”
Thousands of divers from all over the world seek out this opportunity here annually and the newly formulated WSCC would guide them how for their own safety and that of the “gentle giants” locally called butandings, he said.
“While butandings are passive creatures, they can be agitated by any form of aggression such as being touched or chased that is why in the Code, these behaviors are strictly forbidden,” Alcantara said.
Inasmuch as it is a diver’s responsibility as anyone’s to ensure the survival of whale sharks for future generations, he said causing minimal disturbance to the sharks when approaching it by boat or when diving should also be observed according to the Code.
The mayor said under the intensified undertakings to ensure the protection and preservation of the butandings and its natural habitat within the local waters, “we have strengthened our seaborne patrol corps by organizing them into a federation”.
Called the Bantay Dagat (Sea Guard) Federation, the organization will come up with different strategies to protect and conserve the whale sharks, thus improving the existing guidelines in its protection and other marine resource, Alcantara said.
Town councilor Salvador Adrao Jr., who spearheaded the move, said the federation will play a very vital role in preserving the local marine resources with organizational structures involving other agencies mandated to assist in the conservation of the environment and promotion of tourism.
The federation will also be involved in the implementation of the SOP provided under the WSCC particularly responding to whale shark stranding incidents and handle cases of emergency like providing treatment to injured sea animals.
Adrao said it is important that whale sharks are protected not only that it is among the rare marine species listed by the International Union for Conservation of Nature but it helps a lot the country’s tourism industry in general and of Donsol in particular.
During butanding the yearly peak seasons that come between February and May, he said the municipality plays host to not less than 50,000 visitors including foreign tourists and this year, “we are expecting around 100,000” based on the flooding of reservations monitored from travel agencies, hotels in Legazpi City, airlines and local resort operators.
Last year, the DOT regional office in Legazpi City recorded over 60,000 tourists that came to this town for whale sharks interactions. (PNA)