LEGAZPI CITY, 19Feb2014 (PNA) – The presence of whale sharks locally called “butanding” at Albay Gulf here is perking up business and entrepreneurs along the five-kilometer Legazpi City boulevard have been raking in better income since last week.
Lisa Cargullo, a “buko” (young coconut) vendor in Puro village, said they are operating 24 hours now as more people and tourists are swarming the boulevard to watch the whale sharks that have provided excitement and entertainment to spectators.
“Since February 14 until today we have been sleepless because a lot of people are coming here to see the playfulness of the butanding while foreign tourists are interacting with the whale sharks,” Cargullo said.
She said they are happy that the local business is booming, owing to big tourist arrivals in the city since the resurgence of butanding — their third appearance in the city waters since 2010.
With the majestic Mayon volcano providing the background, the presence of butanding indeed provide a double treat to tourists — not to mention the other tourist attractions in the province of Albay that would complete their trip.
Thus, brisk business spilled over to other areas of the province, benefiting both small and big businesses.
With the influx of foreign tourists here, Mayor Noel E. Rosal has enforced stringent measures on how to appreciate seeing or interacting with the whale shark after foreign visitors rode at the back of a butanding on Saturday afternoon despite the code of conduct implemented by the city government of Legazpi.
As a result also, Rosal suspended two butanding interaction officers and two boatmen for allowing the foreign tourists to ride on the whale shark despite the guidelines his office had issued.
“We’re strictly enforcing the guidelines not only to protect the whale sharks but also because we don’t want to disturb their natural feeding habitat. And so, we don’t want the repetition of what happened in Oslob, Cebu, where the locals and tourists rode on the butanding, which disturbed their natural way of feeding and caused stress to the gentle mammals,” he said.
“Butanding is one of the endangered rare sea creatures in the world so we need to safeguard them not only because they’re giving us livelihood but also because we want to preserve and, if possible, increase their population for our upcoming generations,” Rosal added.
The code of conduct was issued by the mayor a day after a school of theses gentle giant sea creatures appeared at the ritzy waterfront of Embarcadero de Legazpi and the seaside areas of Puro, Dapdap and Lamba villages here.
The guidelines asked tourists, swimmers and divers not to touch or ride on the whale shark nor restrict its movement or impede its natural path to ensure its safety.
The rules also recommended that the distance from the animals that divers should maintain is three meters away from its tail.
Similarly, Rosal directed the Integrated Coastal Resource Management Unit led by former councilor Chito Ante to see to it that the COC is strictly followed and observed.
Ante said his office is adopting the Standard Operating Protocol in responding to emergencies involving whale sharks like stranding incidents.
Other prohibited acts are the use of flash in taking underwater photographs as well as the use of scooters, jet ski or any motorized underwater propulsion so as not to cause even minimal disturbance to the sharks.
Everyday, the Legazpi City boulevard is jam-packed with local and foreign tourists as the playfulness of the butanding could be seen just 100 meters away from the shoreline of Albay Gulf.
As foreign and local tourists thronged here, Rosal said he will limit the whale shark interaction from 7:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. so as not to stress the gentle creatures.
“We will strictly enforce the guidelines, and even elected and government officials should follow the rules, like they cannot interact or use any boat for interaction. They should register with our tourism office,” Rosal stressed.
The presence of butanding in Albay Gulf, specifically in Legazpi waters, first happened in February 2010, when two of them stayed for a week in the waters of Legazpi.
This year, the number of butanding increased from two to nine.
Since the re-appearance of butanding on Monday last week, the five-kilometer boulevard spanning from the beachfront leisure and commercial center Embarcadero de Legazpi to Lamba area has been picture of a festival.(PNA)