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The Whale Sharks of Donsol

When AA Yaptinchay (he was then connected with World Wildlife Fund or WWF) approached me to help them out in their project on whale shark conservation in 1998, I was a bit hesitant. I could not imagine that a tourism product based on swimming with the world's biggest fish could become a tourism product. And I could not imagine doing it myself!

But it was already in a dire situation. We knew before that whale sharks were being hunted basically for their huge fins to sate the craving of people looking for shark's fin soup in expensive restaurants. In one island in the Visayas, we walked on the beach littered with discarded whale shark parts. Donsol can go the way of that Island and we needed to act fast. Two whale sharks had already been killed since the news of the presence of the animals found its way to the media.

So off we went to Donsol to develop an ecotourism program designed to help save the remaining whale sharks in the area.

It was a very good day for us because we found out that the Donsol folks did not want to kill the whale sharks and have in fact, started protecting the animals from getting fished out. So we went developing a management plan designed to protect the animal and at the same time provide economic livelihood to the people of Donsol.

Now, ten years later, I can definitely say that the Donsol folks are on their way to succeeding going the way of ecotourism. Its not perfect yet, there are times that whale sharks get crowded by boats and some visitors leave the area dissapointed. Much work will still have to get done.

But Im sure of one thing when Im asked how the effort has been. Its a year-to-year measure of success. Every year that the whale sharks come to Donsol waters and the people try their darnest to manage the tourism industry, then it is successful for that year. If we let the fishermen to harvest the newly discovered whale shark waters in 1998, then all the sharks would have been gone nine years ago.

Photos courtesy of Carina Escudero.


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