‘Protect sharks from tourists’

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Saturday, August 16, 2014


CLEARER rules to protect sharks and rays from tourists who come to watch them, and a campaign to help the public understand the data on sharks and to stop demonizing them.

These are among the recommendations raised at the end of the Shark Summit 2014 yesterday by participants from government agencies and the private sector.

One of the recommendations was to review the 2009 National Plan of Action for the Conservation and Management of Sharks (NPOA), which guides the government’s programs.

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Summit participants recommended that the NPOA should have a chapter on tourism that would, among others, prohibit feeding and other forms of virtual capture.

Some of the sharks that are endangered are found in Cebu, like the thresher sharks off Malapascua Island in Daanbantayan and the whale sharks off Oslob.

Based on the International Union for Conservation of Nature, extinction threatens 25 percent of the 468 shark species known at present.

Interaction

AA Yaptinchay, director of Marine Wildlife Watch of the Philippines (MWWP), said he is working with the Department of Tourism for a program to establish regulations and guidelines on “marine wildlife interaction tourism”.

Yaptinchay said it will cover not only the sharks but all other threatened marine species.

The specific guidelines and rules will also cover activities like snorkeling and diving. Yaptinchay said he hopes the guidelines will be completed within this year and applied nationwide.

“In all the sites that are operating or places that would develop the same kind of tourism meron na silang pagbabasihan, di na kanya-kanyang gawa ng (they would then have a guide in making) regulations,” he said.

Attractions

Mayor Ronald Guaren of Oslob, where the observation of whale sharks has become a tourist attraction, clarified that local officials and residents do not feed the whale sharks, but only lure them to the surface during tours.

According to the MWWP, the whale sharks in Oslob and thresher sharks in Malapascua can be seen by divers the whole year round, unlike other areas where these show up only at certain times of the year.

In Oslob, at least 98,295 tourists visited to see the whale sharks or “butanding” during the first year of operations in 2011.

On behalf of the Provincial Government, Capitol chief security officer Loy Madrigal said they will not only strengthen marine protection, but also develop local communities to sustain their livelihood and maintain their municipal waters.

Madrigal heads the operations of the Provincial Anti-Illegal Fishing Task Force.

The Capitol recently confiscated shark meat shipments, as part of its drive for the protection of sharks.

Amendments

Daanbantayan is also planning to enact an ordinance protecting sharks, particularly in Malapascua Island, where thresher sharks have been attracting tourists.

Last Thursday, the summit’s first day, Mar Guidote of the Ecosystems Improved for Sustainable Fisheries, a project funded by USAid, said the enforcement of laws for the protection of sharks and other species is hampered by lack of awareness and training among enforcers.

Guidote said that some enforcers, for example, are unable to determine if chopped meat of marine species are from endangered sharks.

Amending a provincial ordinance that prohibits the capture of sharks was another of the proposals made in the summit.

Anna Oposa, co-founder of the non-government organization Save Philippine Seas, said they plan to add pelagic sharks, whitetip sharks and hammerhead sharks, to the list of creatures that should not be captured.

Unsustainable fishing practices have made certain shark species highly vulnerable to extinction.

Cebu Provincial Ordinance No. 2012-13 prohibits the catching, possession and trading of sharks within the jurisdiction of the province.
Accidental captures

Among the sharks and other species whose capture is prohibited are thresher sharks (also known as “lawban” or “sakol”), whale sharks (“butanding”); giant manta rays (“sanga”); and sun fish (“mola-mola”).

Summit participants also recommended regulations on fishing practices that result in accidental shark captures; regulations on placing sharks and other endangered species in aquariums and other restricted environment; and developing information and education materials to help more people understand the biology and ecology of sharks.

Vince Cinches, oceans campaigner of Greenpeace Southeast Asia, said they will create a technical working group to consolidate all the commitments and monitor if these have been done.

Oposa welcomed all the support and recommendations made during the summit, the first activity of its kind in the country.

“We got more people and more groups involved and this is only the first step. We’ve got more work to do,” said Oposa. FMG/Nheru B. Veraflor, USJ-R Mass Com Intern

Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on August 16, 2014.

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