Donsol, the town built on Whale sharks07/11/2012 19:23:52 Another example of the good that tourism can do for wildlife, conservation and communities
November 2012. What a big difference conservation makes. Barely 15 years ago, the Philippines coastal town of Donsol was a 5th class rural municipality - where weathered vehicles spurred swirling clouds on dusty, unpaved roads. Sitting 540 kilometres southeast of Manila, the Donsol of the early 1990s was a relaxed and reticent town of fisherfolk and farmers.
1998 - Amateur video of Whale sharks
Though occasionally gathering in other spots such as Australia, Mexico and parts of Africa, Donsol's Whale sharks mostly keep within a kilometre from shore, perfect for gutsy tourists bearing snorkels and masks. With strong government leadership and the support of the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), the townsfolk of Donsol took the plunge - and entered the history books.
25000 visitors per year
"Prior to 1998, Donsol's yearly boat rental revenues totalled about 14,000 pesos. Now they annually breach 14 million ($350,000 US)," reveals WWF-Philippines Donsol Project Manager Raul Burce. "Economic benefits are permeating throughout all levels."
Total revenues from Donsol's whale shark interaction program rose from barely 18,000 pesos in 2002 to more than 22 Million pesos ten years later. These figures exclude revenues generated by resorts, restaurants, dive gear rentals, souvenir stores and rental vans.
Year on year, tourist arrivals have showed upward trends. New income, investment and employment opportunities have popped up. Side by side with their traditional livelihood of fishing, ecotourism has become Donsol's second engine of economic growth.
Because of the way stakeholders ‘democratized' Donsol's system, the people of Donsol had every chance to ‘share the joy' of ecotourism and feel its positive impacts both on their dining tables and in their wallets.
"Tourism gave us a big boost," says Jasmine Yanson, a boatman's wife and mother of seven. "We were able to buy an outrigger boat and household appliances - plus my children were able to finish school."
Today Donsol is a bustling first-class municipality. There are close to 230 tourist rooms available during the high season. From a few hundred curious backpackers, Donsol's seasonal visitor count has exceeded 25,000 - more than 130 per day. Aside from boat operators and BIOs, Donsol now boasts of a full complement of tourist personnel and services that include paddle boatmen, resorts, lodging houses and homestays, restaurants, caterers, souvenir shops and gear rental.
"The economic benefits of embracing conservation cannot be denied," adds Burce. "A simple decision to protect whale sharks has greatly improved Donsolano lives. This is the local economy that Whale sharks built."