Whale shark tourism is destroying a local coral reef in the Philippines

Whale shark tourism is destroying a local coral reef in the Philippines
© iStock/Tammy616

Whale shark tourism in the Philippines has had a negative environmental impact, and has led to the degradation of the local coraf reef ecosystem in Tan-awan, Oslob.

The collaborative research among The University of Hong Kong (HKU), the University of Guam (UoG), and the Large Marine Vertebrates Research Institute Philippines (LAMAVE) shows that whale shark tourism in Tan-awan, Oslob, Philippines has caused the local coral reef ecosystem to degrade.

Mass whale shark tourism

The small municipality of Tan-awan is on the south coast of Cebu. It has become a domestic and international hotspot for tourism since 2011. In 2015, it attracted over 300,000 visitors, a number which has since doubled.

The mass tourism in this municipality is fuelled by the year-round presence of whale sharks, which inhabit the length of the local shallow reef.

This mass whale shark tourism is maintained by the local tourism association feeding the sharks up to 50 tons of shrimps annually.

Most studies to date focus on the whale shark population and tourism perception. This is the first study to investigate the impact of the intensive provisioning to feed the sharks, in terms of its impact on the health of the vulnerable local reef ecosystem.

Wong, the University of Hong Kong, said: “It is vital for all stakeholders to understand that the environmental and societal well-being go hand in hand. I hope that everyone can come to the table to contribute to management and conservation efforts to reverse the trend of reef degradation in Tan-awan.”

A new beginning?

Dr Ponzo of the Large Marine Vertebrates Research Institute, Philippines, said: “Let this be a new beginning. We are positive that with this baseline data at hand the local authorities will look further into the long term and broader ecological impact of mass tourism activities, in Oslob as in many other areas in the country and put a priority into the conservation of their marine resources, shifting towards sustainable tourism and ensuring the local food security through the conservation and restoration of healthy marine ecosystems.”

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