Whale Shark Tourism: Conservation or Exploitation?
I couldn't believe my eyes when I first saw the image of a snorkeler just a few feet away from a gigantic whale shark. The caption read "Oslob, Philippines." I had dreamt of swimming with sharks all my life, and this picture seemed to be telling me that now was the time. Without much more research, I booked a flight and packed my swimsuit.
When I arrived at Tanawan Beach in Oslob I was filled with excitement and adrenaline. But my enthusiasm soon turned to concern when I saw the whale sharks being fed. My heart sank as I witnessed the whale sharks following feeder boats, while hoards of snorkelers followed them.
While the experience was far from what I had dreamt of as a child, it compelled me to find out more. How were these interactions impacting the sharks?
It was a question that I became obsessed with finding the answer to. Just two months after my initial trip, I returned with a documentary film crew to discover more about the practices in Oslob.
"On the Brink: Uncharted Waters" explores not only my initial question but investigates different whale shark tourism practices throughout the Philippines. By documenting industry practices never before captured on film, the documentary exposes new information about the industry, and uncovers threats posed to whale sharks.
The film reveals how some practices could leave the sharks vulnerable to poachers and ultimately threaten the survival of the species. It further examines how this in turn, could have a devastating impact on the marine ecosystem.
When talking about ecotourism, it's crucial to look at the human aspect of the story as well. The film focuses on how to balance locals' economic security with the wellbeing of animals. Only when this happens can responsible ecotourism thrive.
As the film's producer and a shark advocate, I also wanted to send the message that each individual's choices can make a big difference when it comes to conservation and the survival of an entire species.
For more information on the issue and On the Brink: Uncharted Waters please see the links below.