For over a decade now, Donsol has been synonymous with whale sharks. Known locally as the Butanding, this gentle giant helped catapult the once sleepy town of Donsol in Sorsogon from a fifth-class municipality to a first-class town – all because of a community-based whale shark ecotourism program that WWF-Philippines and the local government established in 1998.

Last month, WWF-Philippines National Ambassadors Marc Nelson and Rovilson Fernandez traveled to Donsol to witness and experience first-hand WWF’s conservation and ecotourism work in the area.

“I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of swimming with Butandings. It’s always an incredible experience each time I jump into the water to see the signature spots and gaping mouths of these gentle giants as they speed toward us,” says Rovilson.

“Donsol is a great example of sustainable ecotourism. Stakeholders in the community – from the firefly tour guides to the Butanding Interaction Officers – know how important it is to maintain a balanced and healthy ecosystem. WWF has done good work in the area and I’m proud to play a role in the work that we do,” adds Marc.

Apart from whale shark interactions, Marc and Rovilson also got to dive in the famous ‘Manta Bowl.’ Donsol serves as a jump-off point to explore the natural wonders of Masbate, the province that hosts Tacdugan Reef in Ticao Pass where the ‘Manta Bowl’ is located.

“After decades of diving around the world, I finally saw manta rays. What an incredible experience!” raves Marc. “Hopefully we can ensure that we’ll be able to swim with these gentle giants for many more years.”

For more information on WWF’s work in Donsol and other projects around the country, visit wwf.org.ph.

Marc Nelson and Rovilson Fernandez were named WWF-Philippines National Ambassadors in 2010. Since then, this amazing duo has walked the talk, and has led a slew of activities to create and strengthen awareness on the environment’s most pressing issues.

Whale SharkWhale sharks, the ocean’s gentle giants, are the world’s largest fish. Donsol’s community-based whale shark ecotourism program is a great example of how humans can live in harmony with nature. (Jurgen Freund / WWF-Philippines)

 

 

AmbassadorWWF National Ambassador Rovilson Fernandez, sporting a WWF marine line whale shark shirt, with WWF Project Manager Raul Burce. (Maia Melencio / WWF-Philippines)

 

 

 

 

DavidWWF National Ambassador Marc Nelson with Butanding Interaction Officer (BIO) Omar Nepomuceno. (David David / WWF-Philippines)

 

 

 

Joel PalmaAll ready to swim with the gentle giants! Rovilson is flanked by WWF-Philippines President & CEO Joel Palma (left) and WWF-Philippines Project Manager Raul Burce (right). (WWF-Philippines)

 

 

 

 

WWF“WWF has done good work in Donsol and I’m proud to play a role in the work that we do here,” says WWF National Ambassador Marc Nelson captured here chasing after a 6.5 foot Whale Shark. (Dave David / WWF-Philippines)

 

 

Maia MelencioWWF National Ambassadors Marc Nelson and Rovilson Fernandez, together with WWF President & CEO Joel Palma and WWF Project Manager Raul Burce, meet up with Donsol Vice-Mayor Salvie Ocaya (center). (Maia Melencio / WWF-Philippines)

 

 

 

Marc NelsonMarc’s selfie with a Manta Ray – his first-ever encounter with the majestic sea creature after decades of diving around the world. (Marc Nelson)

 

 

 

WWF IIWWF-Philippines’ dynamic duo – National Ambassadors Rovilson Fernandez and Marc Nelson. (Maia Melencio / WWF-Philippines)