Thursday, March 13, 2014

Legazpi mayor Rosal wants local law to protect butanding

LEGAZPI CITYMayor Noel E. Rosal here has asked the city legislative council to come up with an appropriate local legislation aimed at protecting whale sharks that have started to inhabit the city’s territorial waters.

Mayor Noel Rosal
Photo: Mayor Noel Rosal Facebook account
A pod of whale sharks, locally called butanding, started appearing before the public near the shorelines along Legazpi Boulevard last Jan. 27 and since then have stayed to offer interactions with divers to the amazement of thousands of onlookers, including tourists, flocking the site.

These migratory animals are around and expected to stay for three to four months to feast on plankton that are seasonally abundant in the clean sea waters of the city.

Amid this phenomenon, Rosal issued whale shark interaction guidelines that carry a “Code of Conduct” in dealing with the enormous sea mammals, whose coming to the city waters has become an added attraction -- drawing hundreds of tourists who rush to go seaborne for underwater interactions.

Rosal stressed in the guidelines that “to ensure safety and enjoyable experience and to prevent the animals from being disturbed, the Code of Conduct must be observed.”

“First, do not touch or ride the whale shark nor restrict its movement or impede its natural path. The recommended distance from the animals that divers should maintain is three meters from its tail,” the city mayor said.

While whale sharks are passive creatures, they can be agitated by any form of aggression such as being touched or chased -- that is why in the Code, these behaviors are strictly forbidden, he explained.

Other acts that are forbidden during interactions, Rosal said, are the use of flash in taking underwater photographs and the use of scuba, scooters, jet ski or any motorized underwater propulsion so as not to cause even minimal disturbance to the sharks when approaching it by boat or when diving.

The number of divers interacting with a whale shark should also be limited to six and only one boat must be allowed to approach each animal to avoid crowding that may disturb them, Rosal said in the guidelines.

“We have this whale shark Code of Conduct to ensure the protection of this endangered marine mammal as well as the safety of people, mostly tourists fascinated by having close underwater encounters with them,” he said.

According to the city mayor, “diving with whale sharks in their natural environment is a breathtaking and rewarding experience as this world’s biggest fish glides slowly but gracefully past, resplendent in its dappled skin, within touching distance and impassive to the presence of watchers.”

But at the height of the sightings of the sea mammals, a practice simulation exercise (SIMEX) spearheaded by the Office of Civil Defense (OCD) for Bicol under Regional Director Bernardo Rafaelito Alejandro was conducted right at the shores of Legazpi Boulevard last Feb. 20.

There were two more practices at the nearby waters along the Philippine Ports Authority passenger ferry terminal the following day and on Feb. 24, with the actual SIMEX conducted two days later at the same venue.

In these activities, gunshots were fired and loud explosions were heard at part of the exercise while helicopters were flown almost the sea level and large Philippine Coast Guard and Philippine Navy boats also crowded the venue.

Observers said the activities agitated the whale sharks and the next days, sightings of the animals were reduced in frequency until it was noticed that the animals had transferred somewhere near the shorelines of the nearby towns of Manito and Bacacay, to the dismay of watchers at the boulevard.

“In the interest of, and for the proper protection of whale sharks in consonance with Administrative Order 282 issued by the President of the Philippines in 2010, it is imperative that all agencies concerned must come together to work towards the implementation of this directive,” according to Rosal.

EO 282 provides for the intensification of the protection of the whale shark (Rhicodon typus) in the Philippine waters to conserve the species and to sustain the eco-tourism development in certain coastal communities.

Besides, Rosal said, apart from EO 282, these animals are protected by law as stipulated in the Philippine Fisheries Code (RA 8550), the Wildlife Resources Conservation and Protection Act (RA 9147), the Animal Welfare Act (RA 8485), Fisheries Administrative Order No. 193 and other international laws being embraced by the Philippine Government.

“Thus, I would like to request your august body to conduct a consultative inquiry on this matter in aid of appropriate local legislation,” the mayor asked the city legislative council in a recent letter. (by Danny O. Calleja (PNA) CTB/FGS/DOC/CBD/)
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