DOT urges Moalboal: Let sharks be, focus on other attractionsBy Aileen Garcia-Yap, Marian Z. Codilla
Cebu Daily News
Officials of Moalboal town were urged to educate people about whale sharks and focus on other tourist attractions like their dive spots.
Regional Director Rowena Montecillo of the Department of Tourism in Central Visayas (DTI-7) said she was aware of reports that Moalboal was following the example of Oslob town in feeding whale sharks to lure tourists.
She said DOT representatives were sent to check early this week.
“Moalboal officials told them that it has been a week since they sighted whale sharks in their area which means the area is just a passageway for these creatures,” Montecillo said.
Montecillo said she thinks it would be better if Moalboal allows the gentle giants to pass by and not capitalize on it because the southwest town already has much to offer in white sand beaches, resorts and diving.
Montecillo said the municipal government can educate residents about how to protect the whale sharks by not feeding them.
“The last time our representatives were there, they were told that the municipal government would come up with an ordinance but we have not seen a copy of it yet so I still cannot comment on that,” Montecillo said.
A marine biologist doing research in Moalboal said hand feeding the whale sharks is contributing to a radical change in feeding pattern of the marine creatures.
Alessandro Ponzo, president of the Italian marine research non-government organization Physalus, said they noticed changes in the behavior of the whale sharks since they began monitoring last March 31.
“They are now feeding on a vertical position and they are getting used to people. They just float with their heads above the water and their tails below and they are so used to begging for food,” he said.
Moalboal Mayor Inocentes Cabaron confirmed that dive shops in Pescador island have started to feed the whale sharks to entice them to linger in the area.
He said he doesn’t discourage this because it will boost local tourism.
Moalboal is well known for its beaches and diving.
Barangay Tan-awan in Oslob town started drawing daily crowds of tourists since January after photos of whale sharks swimming near the shore were posted in Facebook.
Whale shark watching is a revenue-generating activity for the town, which passed an ordinance regulating the activity. Fishermen take boatloads of tourists to sea for a close encounter of whale sharks being handfed krill by boatmen.
This has drawn criticism from wildlife protection groups that said the situation could lead to abuse.
“Some of the officials in Oslob have gone to Donsol together with DOT to learn from them on how they can operate while protecting the whalesharks,” Montecillo said.
During the trip Montecillo said they saw that Donsol had a program to facilitate tours including a separate briefing area for the tourists.
“They want to also duplicate that in Oslob,” Montecillo said.
The town is also seeking assistance from the Capitol and other organizations to set up whaleshark watching as an eco-tourism enterprise.
“For me the most urgent thing is to really educate the people so that we can help protect the whale sharks and achieve sustainability,” Montecillo said.
Ponzo said their group wants to help the local governments in Cebu on how to better manage whale shark tourism in their areas.