Gov’t wants Oslob tourism to offer more than whale sharks

Posted on September 12, 2012

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A fisherman feeds krill to one of the whalesharks in Tan-awan, Oslob. Fewer tourists have been coming to the town lately. (MARIAN Z. CODILLA)

The Department of Tourism (DOT) plans to help Oslob town diversify its tourism industry to be less dependent on whale shark watching, which has come under criticism from envrionment groups.

The agency came up with this idea amid the recent sharp decline in the number of visitors coming for whale shark tours.

Rowena Montecillo, regional director for the DOT in Central Visayas, said now is the best time to teach local residents an alternative livelihood so they won’t suffer a big loss in income.

“While the fishermen did not abandon fishing, I think there are many other means of livelihood they can do to earn more. We can partner with the Department of Trade and INdustry (DTI) on this and can link it to other industries,” said Montecillo.

Some environmentalists have warned that Oslob’s practice of hand feeding whale sharks, the world’s biggest fish species, has altered their behaviour and exposed the sea animals to harm.

The large fish approach boats or bubbles thinking they are feeding boats like the ones in Oslob, and some have turned up with propeller cuts in their faces and bodies.

Oslob Mayor Ronaldo Guaren lamented the drop in the number of tourists after negative reports surfaced about the whale shark phenomenon in Oslob, heightened by an online petition by some marine researchers to stop the artificial feeding of whale sharks.

Last week Gov. Gwendolyn Garcia formed a study team with representatives of government agencies for the environment and fisheries to do a three-month monitoring of the behaviour of the whale sharks to find out what they stay in the waters of Oslob and what should be done about it.

Dr. Manuel Aragones, a marine biologist from the University of the Philippines – Diliman, said “there is this hypothesis of a small group of scientists in UP, where we believe that there might be an upwelling in that section.”

Upwelling occurs when “there’s a movement of water from the bottom to the surface seasonally” which brings nutrients and prey to the surface, food which attracts the migratory whale sharks.

With hanging issues on whether whale shark tourism is sustainable, Montecillo said other attraction of the southern town should be tapped.

“Boljoon, Oslob, Santander and Samboan from a strong cluster which offers products for ecotourism, culture and heritage. We can develop that,” said Montecillo.

The towns in southeast Cebu host Spanish period stone churches like Patrocino de Maria Church in Boljoon, and natural sights like the Tumalog Falls in Oslob, white sand beaches in Santander, and the Ponong hidden lake in Samboan.

“They offer so many things in this cluster and we can include whale shark watching as just part of the whole itinerary, said Montecillo.

DTI Cebu provincial director Nelia Navarro agreed that the agency can parter for One-Town-One-Product or Otop programs in these areas.

DTI is working for the Otop program in specific municipalities and welcomes DOT and people’s organizations as a partner for more livelihood programs, she said.

For example, the Sumilon Bluewater Island Resort in Oslob town taps a a group of women in Oslob to supply their candles.

“We can do more of that like supplying soap and food product requirements like seafood, vegetables and spices. This are opportunities that we can explore more for them,” said Navarro. /Aileen Garcia-Yap, Reporter

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