INSTEAD of higher rates, why not ban diving and snorkeling near whale sharks?

A councilor of barangay Tan-awan, Oslob town floated this idea yesterday, saying the municipal government should instead allow only whale shark watching by visitors.

“Di nila ipa-agi ug taas. Pangwarta na man na (They shouldn’t do it by raising the rates. That’s just profiteering),” Tan-awan barangay councilor Jimmy Marimar said.

Marimar made the observation as contradictory assessments by the mayor and a sea warden’s association arose on the number of tourist arrivals in the area following the new higher rates imposed by the Oslob municipal government.

Oslob Mayor Ronal Guaren said the new rates didn’t lower the number of whale shark watchers in barangay Tan-awan, Oslob town.

This contradicts a claim by a sea warden’s group that there were fewer visitors as a result of the new rates.

“The new rates had no effect, there were still a lot of visitors. If the higher fee rate wouldn’t make any difference, our next option is to assure strict implementation of the policies,” Guaren told Cebu Daily News.

But Limbeth Susada, president of the Tan-awan Oslob Sea Warden Fishermen’s Association (TOSWFA), said they only had 500 guests yesterday.

He said they usually have 1,000 visitors and Sunday draws the biggest number of visitors.

“Many divers went home because they didn’t know about the new fee and their money weren’t enough,” Susada told Cebu Daily News.

He said many snorkelers also backed off when they heard the new rates.

Marimar said if the municipal government wanted to protect the whale sharks, they should just stop the snorkeling and diving of the visitors and allow only whale shark watching.

But Susada said most of the guests would prefer to swim with the whale sharks rather than watch them from the boat. “The new rates are too expensive for them,” he said.

“Why can’t they just implement the old rates and at the same time strictly implement the ordinance to protect the whale sharks?,” Susada added.

He said they would discuss their concerns with the municipal council.

Guaren earlier said he explained to the fisherfolk that the higher rates were meant to discourage visitors from going near the whale sharks.

When asked if they will lower the rates once there are fewer tourists, Guaren said he would have to talk about it with the municipal council.

Still both Guaren and the fisherfolk agree to make it more convenient for visitors to avail of life vests and gear.

Guaren said he will negotiate with the stalls so the municipal government can pay them and allow guests to use the gear for free.

Susada said new tickets and booths were already put in place yesterday.

Snorkeling fees went up from P320 to P500 for local tourists and P1,000 for foreign visitors.

Diving rates went up from P350 to P600 for local tourists and P1,500 for foreigners.

The coastal community of barangay Tan-awan in Oslob became an overnight tourist hub due to the recent presence of whale sharks there.

The marine creatures swim along with boatmen who feed them with krill.

Marine biologists voiced concern that the practice would affect the feeding pattern of the whale sharks. /Candeze R. Mongaya, Reporter