Ocean Action Hub

2 Jan 2019 - Diving tours run by former fishermen have lifted the villagers out of poverty and given new protection to overfished marine life.

Fishermen-turned-entrepreneurs who have been financing the protection of endangered whale sharks in the Philippines have hit on a successful scheme to help lift their coastal community out of poverty, new research has found.

A group of 58 fishermen from the town of Oslob who were struggling to feed their families turned to the world’s largest fish species to set up a community based dive company in 2011. It has since become an international hotspot for tourists to swim with the sharks, attracting more than 750,00 visitors in the first five years and amounting to $18.4m (£14.7m) in ticket sales over the same period.

The attraction, whereby former fishermen take tourists out on boats to observe, swim and dive with the whale sharks, has not been without controversy. But now scientists claim the unique business model has improved food security, healthcare and education in the community while also safeguarding the species, that is protected by law but illegally poached and finned alive in other parts of the country.

An analysis of how Oslob Whale Sharks (OWS), run by 177 former fishermen in partnership with local government, has impacted on livelihoods and the environment has been published in the journal Ocean & Coastal Management.

“Oslob, in the province of Cebu, is one of the poorest fishing sites in the Philippines but also anywhere in the world,” said Judi Lowe, a marine scientist at the Southern Cross University in Australia who led the research with Johann Tejada at the Bureau of Fishery and Aquatic Resources.

Lowe said, before the creation of OWS many of the fishermen could not afford to put food on their table or educate their children, while some had lost their palm frond homes in typhoons.

Former fishermen Jesson Jumuad who leads a team at OWS said: “As fishermen we were earning as little as $1.40 a day but nothing on days when the current was strong.

“Sometimes in a day I didn’t have any fish to be sold but now I can give my family good food three times a day. I have built a brick house, bought a motor bike and can afford to send my daughter to school.”

Historically, food security in the area has been an issue due to years of overfishing and the destruction of coral reefs. Between the 1950s and 1980s Oslob was home to a destructive form of fishing called muro ami, whereby a fleet of boats run by local elites used child slaves to bring in catches, explained Lowe.

CONTINUE READING ONLINE HERE: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/dec/10/how-whale-sharks-saved-a-filippino-fishing-town-and-its-sea-life

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Publication date: 
Publication Organisation: 
The Guardian
Publication Author: 
Hannah Summers
Thematic Area: 
Marine ecosystems