The best of EcoWatch, right in your inbox. Sign up for our email newsletter!
Is the Whale Shark Tourism Industry Conservation or Exploitation?
By Neela Eyunni
It was 4:45 a.m. when I arrived at Tanawan Beach in Oslob, Cebu. Despite the darkness, the parking lot was already bustling with tour buses and visitors, who had come from all over the world. Local boatmen, easy identified by their long sleeve blue shirts, prepared for the influx of visitors to come.
Like everyone else, I had made the long journey to this little-known town in the Philippines to see one thing … whale sharks.
A quick internet search on where to swim with whale sharks revealed unbelievable images of snorkelers just a few feet away from the giant filter feeders. Furthermore, Tanawan Beach, the area where the whale shark interactions occur, guaranteed sightings. I could hardly contain my exhilaration as I arrived at the beach that first morning.
The reality of the situation, however, was far from what I had expected. After heading out in a boat with several other tourists, I spotted my first whale shark. My initial excitement soon faded when I saw the sharks swallowing handfuls of food being tossed into the water by Tanawan Beach staff. The whale sharks looked more like domestic pets than wild animals as they followed the feeder boats, continuously gulping down food at the surface.
My experience at Tanawan Beach no doubt left me disappointed, but more importantly it left me concerned about the sharks' welfare. How were these interactions, which included giving the sharks food, impacting their behavior?
Less than two months later I was back with a film crew. The documentary On the Brink: Uncharted Waters follows my personal journey to answers my initial questions. It reveals how some practices could leave the sharks vulnerable to poachers and ultimately threaten the survival of the entire species. It further examines how this in turn could have a devastating impact on the marine ecosystem. Referring to the film's title, the balance between conservation and exploitation is “on the brink."
However, the issue of whale shark tourism in the Philippines is complex and it's impossible to fully understand without looking at the human aspect as well. The whale shark interactions have single-handedly lifted Oslob, Cebu from extreme poverty, with residents only recently gaining access to healthcare and education. Oslob's mayor, Ronald Guaren, insists the revenue generated by the whale shark tourism industry goes directly back into the town's development.
The question is: How do we balance the needs of people and the needs of sharks to make the industry responsible and sustainable?
The answer may not be simple. But by looking at other whale shark tourism destinations in the Philippines, like Donsol in Luzon Island, I've learned that it is possible. Donsol's whale shark tourism industry has a strict ban on feeding and operates for just six months out of the year.
Through my experience, I have come to understand that the first step is to create a diversified economy. Whale sharks are wild and unpredictable animals. By relying solely on them for income, local governments are leaving themselves financially vulnerable. The industry also requires tighter nationwide regulations, something that conservation groups in the Philippines are currently working towards.
But lasting change can only occur when we as tourists choose to put the welfare of animals over our own interests. It is this shift in mindset and the acknowledgement that our individual actions can and do make a difference that is the key to sustainable shark tourism, not only in the Philippines but around the world.
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
georgeclerk / E+ / Getty Images
By Jennifer Molidor
One million species are at risk of extinction from human activity, warns a recent study by scientists with the United Nations. We need to cut greenhouse gas pollution across all sectors to avoid catastrophic climate change — and we need to do it fast, said the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
This research should serve as a rallying cry for polluting industries to make major changes now. Yet the agriculture industry continues to lag behind.
"The Ministry of Environment, Natural Resources Conservation and Tourism wishes to inform the public that following extensive consultations with all stakeholders, the Government of Botswana has taken a decision to lift the hunting suspension," the government announced in a press release shared on social media.
Company Safety Data Sheets on New Chemicals Frequently Lack the Worker Protections EPA Claims They Include
By Richard Denison
Readers of this blog know how concerned EDF is over the Trump EPA's approval of many dozens of new chemicals based on its mere "expectation" that workers across supply chains will always employ personal protective equipment (PPE) just because it is recommended in the manufacturer's non-binding safety data sheet (SDS).
By Grant Smith
From 2009 to 2012, Gregory Jaczko was chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, which approves nuclear power plant designs and sets safety standards for plants. But he now says that nuclear power is too dangerous and expensive — and not part of the answer to the climate crisis.
By Brett Walton
When Greg Wetherbee sat in front of the microscope recently, he was looking for fragments of metals or coal, particles that might indicate the source of airborne nitrogen pollution in Rocky Mountain National Park. What caught his eye, though, were the plastics.
In a big victory for animals, Prada has announced that it's ending its use of fur! It joins Coach, Jean Paul Gaultier, Giorgio Armani, Versace, Ralph Lauren, Vivienne Westwood, Michael Kors, Donna Karan and many others PETA has pushed toward a ban.
This is a victory more than a decade in the making. PETA and our international affiliates have crashed Prada's catwalks with anti-fur signs, held eye-catching demonstrations all around the world, and sent the company loads of information about the fur industry. In 2018, actor and animal rights advocate Pamela Anderson sent a letter on PETA's behalf urging Miuccia Prada to commit to leaving fur out of all future collections, and the iconic designer has finally listened.
If people in three European countries want to fight the climate crisis, they need to chill out more.
"The rapid pace of labour-saving technology brings into focus the possibility of a shorter working week for all, if deployed properly," Autonomy Director Will Stronge said, The Guardian reported. "However, while automation shows that less work is technically possible, the urgent pressures on the environment and on our available carbon budget show that reducing the working week is in fact necessary."
The report found that if the economies of Germany, Sweden and the UK maintain their current levels of carbon intensity and productivity, they would need to switch to a six, 12 and nine hour work week respectively if they wanted keep the rise in global temperatures to the below two degrees Celsius promised by the Paris agreement, The Independent reported.
The study based its conclusions on data from the UN and the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) on greenhouse gas emissions per industry in all three countries.
The report comes as the group Momentum called on the UK's Labour Party to endorse a four-day work week.
"We welcome this attempt by Autonomy to grapple with the very real changes society will need to make in order to live within the limits of the planet," Emma Williams of the Four Day Week campaign said in a statement reported by The Independent. "In addition to improved well-being, enhanced gender equality and increased productivity, addressing climate change is another compelling reason we should all be working less."
Supporters of the idea linked it to calls in the U.S. and Europe for a Green New Deal that would decarbonize the economy while promoting equality and well-being.
"This new paper from Autonomy is a thought experiment that should give policymakers, activists and campaigners more ballast to make the case that a Green New Deal is absolutely necessary," Common Wealth think tank Director Mat Lawrence told The Independent. "The link between working time and GHG (greenhouse gas) emissions has been proved by a number of studies. Using OECD data and relating it to our carbon budget, Autonomy have taken the step to show what that link means in terms of our working weeks."
Stronge also linked his report to calls for a Green New Deal.
"Becoming a green, sustainable society will require a number of strategies – a shorter working week being just one of them," he said, according to The Guardian. "This paper and the other nascent research in the field should give us plenty of food for thought when we consider how urgent a Green New Deal is and what it should look like."
- Reduced Work Hours as a Means of Slowing Climate Change ›
- How working less could solve all our problems. Really. | ›
- Needed: A shorter work week – People's World ›