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.
To save the planet, we must save the Amazon rainforest. To save the rainforest, we must save its indigenous peoples. And to do that, we must demarcate their land.
A new EarthxTV film special calls for the protection of the Amazon rainforest and the indigenous people that call it home. EarthxTV.org
- Meet the 'Women Warriors' Protecting the Amazon Forest - EcoWatch ›
- Indigenous Tribes Are Using Drones to Protect the Amazon ... ›
- Amazon Rainforest Will Collapse by 2064, New Study Predicts ... ›
- Deforestation in Amazon Skyrockets to 12-Year High Under Bolsonaro ›
- Amazon Rainforest on the Brink of Turning Into a Net Carbon Emitter ... ›
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Anke Rasper
"Today's interim report from the UNFCCC is a red alert for our planet," said UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres.
The report, released Friday, looks at the national climate efforts of 75 states that have already submitted their updated "nationally determined contributions," or NDCs. The countries included in the report are responsible for about 30% of the world's global greenhouse gas emissions.
- World Leaders Fall Short of Meeting Paris Agreement Goal - EcoWatch ›
- UN Climate Change Conference COP26 Delayed to November ... ›
- 5 Years After Paris: How Countries' Climate Policies Match up to ... ›
- Biden Win Puts World 'Within Striking Distance' of 1.5 C Paris Goal ... ›
- Biden Reaffirms Commitment to Rejoining Paris Agreement ... ›
India's New Delhi has been called the "world air pollution capital" for its high concentrations of particulate matter that make it harder for its residents to breathe and see. But one thing has puzzled scientists, according to The Guardian. Why does New Delhi see more blinding smogs than other polluted Asian cities, such as Beijing?
- This Indian Startup Turns Polluted Air Into Climate-Friendly Tiles ... ›
- How to Win the Fight Against Plastic - EcoWatch ›
In a historic move, the Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC) voted Thursday to ban hydraulic fracking in the region. The ban was supported by all four basin states — New Jersey, Delaware, Pennsylvania and New York — putting a permanent end to hydraulic fracking for natural gas along the 13,539-square-mile basin, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported.
- Appalachian Fracking Boom Was a Jobs Bust, Finds New Report ... ›
- Long-Awaited EPA Study Says Fracking Pollutes Drinking Water ... ›
- Pennsylvania Fracking Water Contamination Much Higher Than ... ›
Colombia is one of the world's largest producers of coffee, and yet also one of the most economically disadvantaged. According to research by the national statistic center DANE, 35% of the population in Columbia lives in monetary poverty, compared to an estimated 11% in the U.S., according to census data. This has led to a housing insecurity issue throughout the country, one which construction company Woodpecker is working hard to solve.
- Kenyan Engineer Recycles Plastic Into Bricks Stronger Than ... ›
- Could IKEA's New Tiny House Help Fight the Climate Crisis ... ›