Oslob assures proper whale care

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Thursday, August 30, 2012


THE whale sharks and the marine ecosystem in Oslob town are protected by the fisherfolks and local government unit.

Oslob Mayor Ronald Guaren said the municipal government has passed an ordinance in January this year and its provisions are fully implemented.

He was referring to Ordinance 091 Series of 2012 or “An ordinance providing measures on the protection and conservation of marine wildlife particularly on whale sharks in the municipal waters of Oslob, Cebu, prescribing regulations, guidelines and imposing fees, fines and penalties for violation thereof.”

The objectives of the ordinance are to prescribe rules and guidelines for the protection of whale sharks, establish partnership for effective implementation of the ordinance, introduce standard operating procedure on whale shark watching and/or
viewing and to ensure convenience and safety of the tourists/whale shark watchers.

“The reason we raised our fees is to regulate the number of people in the water at one time, to protect the whale sharks,” Guaren told Sun.Star Cebu.

He denied that they are feeding the whale sharks, adding that “it’s not actual feeding, tagaan sila para mogawas sila (they are given food to lure them out).”

Schedule

The whale shark-watching activities end by noontime as part of measures to allow the marine creatures to forage for their food.

“They (whale sharks) are free, dili pa ta sure na mobalik sila (we are not sure if they would return),” he said.

He related that the whale sharks have been present in the area for the past 20 years.

“The whale sharks go as near as 50 m. to 100 m. from the shoreline. Probably because the habitat is good, there are marine sanctuaries. There is Sumilon Island, the first established marine protected area,” he said.

“We are not jeopardizing (the behavior of) the whale sharks,” said Guaren.

In a separate interview, the leader of the fishermen’s association in Barangay Tan-awan in Oslob town denied they feed the whale sharks.

Lembet Susada, Tan-awan Oslob Sea Warden and Fishermen’s Association (TOWSFA) president, said they only have about 20 kilos of shrimps just to “tease” the whale sharks to come out.

“One whale shark would need at least 100 kilos of food, 20 kilos is too small for them,” he told Sun.Star Cebu.

At least 10 whale sharks are visible from the shoreline of Oslob town every day.

Discussion

An emergency meeting was held by the TOWSFA with Municipal Tourism Office representative Elizabeth Benologa to discuss the various problems of fishermen and the memorandum issued by Protected Areas and Wildlife Bureau (PAWB) Director Theresa Mundita Lim.

Lim instructed the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) 7 to start work on ending the practice of feeding whale sharks in Oslob town.

Benologa said they still have to discuss the issues and probable alternative livelihood and she also expressed concern over the directive as this may have an effect on the ecotourism program of the municipal government.

“It is not just Oslob, not just Cebu Province that has benefited from this (whale shark watching). We have coordinated with other groups from nearby provinces to help
us maintain this tourist attraction,” she said.

Susada said each TOWSFA member earn between P100 and P200 on weekdays and between P600 and P700 on Saturdays and Sundays.

He added that sometimes the income of the members is not enough that they still have to set sail in the afternoon to catch fish.

The group’s share make up 60 percent of the amount collected from the whale shark watching ecotourism activities. The local government unit gets 30 percent and 10 percent for the barangay, according to Mayor Guaren.

The DENR 7 will hold consultation meetings or dialogues with the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) 7 officials and local government unit of Oslob to discuss and deliberate the timeframe to discontinue the existing practices of feeding while pursuing low impact and environmentally-friendly wildlife ecotourism enterprises.

Protected Area, Wildlife Conservation Zone and Management Services (PAWCZMS) Regional Technical Director Dr. Al O. Orolfo said it should be stopped as it alters the natural capability of these wildlife species to search for their own food as it promotes dependency on the fishermen feeding them.

The team is composed of Orolfo as lead with Coastal and Marine Management Division (CMMD) chief Edmondo Aregadas and Integrated Coastal Resources Management Project (ICRMP) Eco-Tourism Enterprise Assistants Joel Cariño and Lorenz Gideon Esmero.

Susada said his group is aware of the consequences of disrupting the marine ecosystem and that they are working for the protection and conservation of the environment.

The group is also aware that corals and the habitat of the whale sharks in general should be protected and they also strictly impose the guidelines enumerated in the municipal ordinance on whale shark watching.

“For visitors, there is a penalty of P2,500 for those who touch the whale sharks. They should not use sun tan oil or lotion as this could contain harmful ingredients,” he added.

Mayor Guaren said there are plans to put up a briefing center that could cost at least P1 million as information dissemination or education on whale sharks and protection for he marine ecosystem is one of the government’s priority programs.

Agreement

The municipal government has also entered into an agreement with Physalus, a group of researchers, to conduct a study on the unique behavior of whale sharks in Oslob. But he has yet to receive a report from the group.

Gerry Garagantilla, BCD’s Place Whale Shark Watching manager, said the body and tail
of the whale sharks can be seen from the resort in the morning.

He saw “Fermin” pass by yesterday. Fermin, a young whale shark, became popular after photos showing his injuries apparently from propeller of boats was posted online.

He related his experience of riding on a banca when he noticed a whale shark swimming alongside them. This is the usual experience of fishermen in their town.

“They would use baits to catch fish. The whale sharks would go near their boats and go after their baits. They (fishermen) would throw their bait to drive them away,” he added.

Motive

Meanwhile, Cebu Gov. Gwen Garcia wants to set a meeting with DENR 7 and the Municipality of Oslob after the DENR national office instructed the town to stop feeding the whales.

Garcia said the Municipality of Oslob thinks there may be other motivations why some people are not happy about having the whale sharks in the town.

The DENR-Protected Areas and Wildlife Bureau Director Theresa Mundita Lim sent the DENR 7 reminding it that feeding of the whale sharks is against the protocol on whale-shark watching.

This was in response to an email from whale shark researcher Elson Q. Aca addressed to DENR Secretary Ramon Paje about the feeding in Oslob.

In the letter, it was suggested that DENR 7 should collaborate with the Oslob town officials to pursue action to stop the activity on feeding whale sharks in the town.

“We will sit down with Oslob and DENR because such an idea is based on an observation
of one,” Garcia said.

Lim pointed out this is to practice low-impact and environmentally-friendly wildlife ecotourism practices.

Whale sharks are migratory and are found in warm waters, except Mediterranean. It is said that when whale sharks appear in a certain area, it has found abundance of food in the place.

Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on August 30, 2012.

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