CEBU CITY—What Oslob needs to protect the whale sharks in the town’s waters is education, not increasing fees for interaction with the rare creatures to regulate the number of tourists, according to environmentalists.
Vince Cinches, executive director of the Center for Environment Initiatives, described as “illogical” the move of the municipal government to jack up fees for snorkeling and diving with the whale sharks, locally called “tuki.”
Raising fees ‘illogical’
“The logic of the mayor to raise fees to regulate tourists is not right. They should be more strict in the implementation of their protocols regarding whale shark protection,” said Cinches, who is also country coordinator of 350.org, a nongovernment organization fighting climate change.
Starting April 15, Oslob, 117 kilometers south of this city, will increase the fees for snorkeling and diving from P300 to up to P1,500. Its mayor, Ronald Guaren, has claimed that higher fees will discourage tourists from going whale-watching.
Domestic tourists will still pay P300 for riding on a nonmotorized boat to watch the creatures. But foreign tourists will have to shell out P500.
To snorkel with the whale sharks, domestic tourists will pay P500 and foreign visitors, P1,000. A P600 fee will be collected from local tourists who want to dive with the creatures and P1,500 from foreign tourists.
Barely three months ago, the municipal government adopted an ordinance regulating whale-watching activities in Barangay (village) Tan-awan. The village is expecting an upsurge of tourist arrivals this summer.
Cinches said Oslob should conduct an education campaign, not only for residents of the town but everyone in the province, including tourists, to protect the whale sharks.
He cited the case of a picture taken of a girl standing on top of a whale shark and posted on Facebook. She was among those who touched the whale shark that was brought to shallow waters in Barangay Granada, Boljoon, at around 7 a.m. on March 31.
The girl later apologized, saying she didn’t know that it was wrong to touch the whale shark.
Gary Cases, a marine biologist of the Philippine Commission on Sports Scuba Diving, said a proper information drive should be mounted to control the situation.
Oslob must have an ordinance stating that earnings from whale shark watching must be used for the protection of the creatures instead of going to a general fund.
Boljoon Mayor Teresita Celis, in a phone interview on Tuesday, apologized for the mishandling of the situation. She said an ordinance would be drafted to ensure the correct handling of the butanding.
In a separate interview, Cebu Vice Governor Agnes Magpale said an ordinance she authored for the protection of thresher sharks, sun fish and manta rays should be amended to include whale sharks. Under the ordinance, punishment for offenders is one-year imprisonment or P5,000 fine.
Under Republic Act No. 9147, also known as the Wildlife Resources Conservation and Protection Act, penalties range from imprisonment of five days to four years and fine of P200 to P5 million.
Wrong to feed
Cinches said whale sharks should not be fed, like what the fishermen in Oslob were doing to lure the marine mammals toward their boats so tourists could take their photos.
He said it would reduce the whale sharks’ hunting instinct and create dependency on humans. The creatures would always be near the open sea so there was no need to feed them, he added.
“The whale sharks belong to the sea. There’s another way of raising money for Oslob and not just through whale shark watching,” he said.—With a report from Carmel Matus, Inquirer Visayas