Dive shops try to duplicate Oslob’s successBy Marian Z. Codilla
Cebu Daily News
They want the gentle giants to frequent the southwest town and duplicate the success of the town of Oslob, where tourists flock daily.
Pescador Island, a 10-minute boat ride from the mainland, is a well known dive spot.
“The whale sharks have been sighted here before but no one got the brilliant idea of feeding them krill like Oslob until now,” said Moalboal town Mayor Inocentes Cabaron in Cebuano.
Krill refers to tiny-shrimp like crustaceans naturally found in the sea.
Last month, a draft ordinance was introduced in the Moalboal municipal council seeking to regulate whale shark feeding activities and to collect fees.
It was passed on first reading.
The mayor, however, said they noticed that the whale sharks have not been sighted in the past three weeks.
“We will schedule a public hearing on the ordinance once the whale sharks appear again,” said the mayor.
Whale sharks are the largest fish in the world. Despite their size, they feed on tiny plankton and krill and travel migratory routes around the world in search of feeding grounds.
“Boatmen from various dive shops are feeding the whale sharks krill just to let the whale sharks stay like those in Oslob,” said the mayor.
“Oslob’s whale sharks are no longer seasonal. We want that to happen here.”
Moalboal’s Whale shark Conservation Ordinance said it wants to protect the marine animals at the same time welcome tourists.
Like Oslob’s ordinance, fees are set for entrance and various activities related to scuba diving, snorkeling, and even filming the animals.
The Moalboal municipal government wants to collect P20 per adult, P10 per student and P30 for an adult foreigner.
An additional fee will be collected for scuba diving (P100), snorkeling (P50), filming for movie production, television, commercials or the like (P300), and another P50 for mooring.
A whale shark interaction center will also be set up where visitors will be briefed before being brought to sea.
Prohibited acts are fishing within the radius of 100 meter, touching, hunting, capturing and destroying the aquatic habitat of the whale shark.
Local resorts and dive shop operators should be accredited in their accreditation committee that is yet to be set up.
Oslob’s coastal barangay of Tan-awan used to be a sleepy fishing village until whale shark tours were made a public attraction starting January this year.
Boatmen in paddle boats bring tourists to sea and toss krill in the water, attracting whale sharks that come as close as 50 meters from the shoreline.
A peak of 1,300 tourists in a single day were in Oslob for the Chinese New Year celebration last January.
Unlike Oslob, Moalboal town has well established resorts and a growing population of foreigners drawn to its white sand beach and marine park.
Cebu is part of the emigrational path of the whale sharks.
In the Pacific belt, whale sharks, known as “tuki” in Cebu or butanding, are widely distributed in the waters of Mexico, Papua New Guinea, Micronesia, Palau, Indonesia, Philippines, India among others.
But they are found all over the world according to Cebu diver and marine biologist Gary Cases of the Philippine Commission on Sports Scuba Diving (PCSSD).
“For now, the whale sharks could were not sighted for three weeks but if they come back we will really feed them,” he said.
He said hand feeding whale sharks krill instead of letting them hunt for it at sea was not the best practice but acknowledged that it would boost their tourism industry.
“Ideally speaking it’s not right. I have read comments from marine experts but why is it allowed in Oslob? That was not stopped,” he told Cebu Daily News.
Some groups have called for a stop to whale shark-feeding, like the Cebu-based
Coastal Conservation and Education Foundation, Inc. (CCEEF).
“Because we realize that human activities such as feeding of whalesharks may involve unintended hazards, we are strongly urging LGUs to guard against unnecessary exploitation of these endangered species. They have to exercise more caution and stop encouraging the feeding but rather, must be aware of their bounden duty to protect the whalesharks against potential threats that may harm their chances of survival,” said Rose Liza Osorio, CCEF executive director.
Philippine Earth Justice Center (PECJ) lawyer Joan Dulhao said the local government units should focus on protecting their marine resources from commercial and illegal fishers.
“That’s a shame. Feeding the animals will only make them dependent on humans which wild creatures should never be. Instead of enacting an ordinance, promoting feeding to attract the sharks and eventually tourists, the municipality should focus on protecting their marine resources from commercial/ illegal fishers and over fishing. It will take years, yes but when your municipal waters aer teeming with fish, shrimp ete the sharks wil find their own way there. The only acceptable way to feed them is to protect their feeding ground not hand feed them,” Dulhao told Cebu Daily News
“Give it a protected feeding ground, feed it for a lifetime. It will stay there voluntarily, no bribe needed,” she added.