After my placement at Coral Cay Conservation I decided to went down south of Cebu and check out what I have not accomplished from my last year’s trip. The small fishing village of Tan-awan, Oslob, Cebu was in the spot light for whale shark sighting.
I didn’t come to Oslob to swim with the whale sharks (Rhincodon typus) cause I am against the unnatural fish feeding but I came up here to learn more what of tourism and sustainability.
Through couchsurfing I was able to meet up with a resident . He told me that the community should not only depend on the whale shark tourism alone even though whale shark tourism already earned millions after it started few years back. He said there are other things they can promote like trekking and diving, and improve the resort’s accommodations on the stretch of the white beach.
I was able to meet the LAMAVE volunteers and hang out at their porch. According to one volunteer whale shark tourism started when a video of whale shark that feeds on the shrimps which caught by nets went viral on the internet. The volunteers take turn snorkeling every hour to photo ID and record the whale shark behavior while the sharks are inside the sighting site an area buoyed around for shark watching. They were able to record mostly male juvenile and few females. Furthermore, they were able to record long staying whale sharks.
Whale sharks are migratory and naturally feeds on plankton regardless of their body and mouth sizes. Feeding them with krill alters its nutrient intake and the food web. In Oslob feedings starts in the morning with krill out sourced from near towns or next provinces. However, fish feeding per se is unnatural but it can’t just be stop as it will stop tourism and cut off the income of the community. Scientists are worried of the fish feeding impacts on the whale sharks’ life cycle as they are now not migrating naturally. Socioeconomic and conservation in this case are in conflict.
The before fishermen are now your guides to whale watching. There are items to be rented as well like masks, snorkels, and underwater cameras at cost that sums up to the local’s daily income.
Whale shark tourism for the locals is blessings and able to improve their lives. They were able to set up business such as restaurant and souvenir shop that able them to send their kids to universities.
Whale shark tourism had alleviate the communities’ lives and the local government’s revenue increased. However, if fish feeding put the whale sharks at risk then this is not sustainable for whale shark and tourism.