Donsol, Sorsogon has grown economically because of the strong tourism brought by whale sharks to its shore.
In 1998, the amateur video shared by diver David Duran revealing Donsol as a home to the world’s biggest fish species, the butanding or whale shark, changed the status of the once 5th class rural municipality. Before that discovery, Ningaloo Reef in Western Australia served as the whale shark tourism center.
Donsol’s government and people then took advantage of this opportunity by promoting and preserving the whale shark sanctuary in their place. Moreover, WWF-Philippines helps the municipality’s tourism management by leading a conservation program. Other institutions, such as WWF-Denmark, Hubbs Sea World Research Institute (HSWRI), ECOCEAN, Banco de Oro Unibank (BDO), and CERTINA, support for this project by including environmental education in public school learning.
Now, a lot of positive changes have occurred to the municipality of Donsol as caused by the whale shark tourism.
Now, 25,000 tourists visit the town each summer, which has significantly increased from the 867 number of guests in 2002. Furthermore, the number of boat trips from the same year has also dramatically increased from 340 to 5300 every season.
Also, the average municipal income of P4000 in 1998 from the seasonal taxes and fees now reaches P4.6M annually. The Butanding Interaction Officers (BIOS) also now brings in P3.1 M each season, aside from the tips.
In ten years since 2002, the total revenues from Donsol’s whale shark interaction program has risen from an average of P18, 000 to P22M.
“Prior to 1998, Donsol’s yearly boat rental revenues totaled about P14,000. Now they annually breach P14M,” Raul Burce, WWF-Philippines Donsol Project Manager stated. “Economic benefits are permeating throughout all levels.”
The economic growth of Donsol is much evident as more resorts, hotels, restaurants, dive gear rentals, rental vans, and souvenir shops have been produced in the place. Not only does the government benefit from this, but even the ordinary people as many engage in ecotourism sideline for their livelihood aside from their usual source of income, which is fishing.
Asked how the ecotourism helped her family, Jasmine Yanson, boatman’s wife with seven children stated, “Tourism gave us a big boost… We were able to buy an outrigger boat and household appliances – plus my children were able to finish school.”
Now, Donsol is already a first class municipality in Sorsogon and as the community and the government unite to protect the butanding ecosystem in the area, more benefit from the development.
“The economic benefits of embracing conservation cannot be denied,” says Burce. “A simple decision to protect whale sharks has greatly improved Donsolano lives. This is the local economy that whale sharks built.”