All certified scuba divers are trained to comply with the rule ‘don’t touch anything underwater and leave nothing but bubbles’.
As a passionate scuba diver, instructor and underwater filmmaker I often travel in Asia to explore the seas and to capture the beautiful marine life on video. Just a few months ago, after more than 20 years of diving, I saw my first whale shark ever. Whale sharks belong to the biggest fish in the ocean. They are graceful, harmless and truly magnificent. We encountered them in the open sea and they were totally free to go. More recently I had a very different experience.
In the south of the Philippines on the island of Cebu which in itself is a natural wonder with absolute stunning coral reefs, drop offs, large schools of tropical fish, sardine bait balls and many turtles, the tourism board and dive resorts advertise with the famous whale sharks of Oslob. After some research on the internet I felt uneasy going there but curiosity had the better of me. I wanted to see what is going on with my own eyes. The beach is lovely with pick nick spots and some restaurants.
On the beach, looking at the ocean there was a fleet of small fishing boats. Probably local fishermen who had started their every day fishing to generate some income.
However the reality was different and actually terrifying. These fishing boats brought numerous tourists to smaller vessels that were floating in a long line opposite the row of boats of the park rangers who were feeding the sharks. Thus ensuring that tourists with their masks and snorkeling gear, could spot the animals. When we dived to see the event from below the surface, I wasn’t sure whether to cry or to laugh. All these tourists in their Titanic style outfits floating in the ocean to get a glimpse of the whale sharks. There were about 15 of them. That is, Whale sharks, not tourists. They were at least a hundred.
You could wonder, why bother? What is the problem feeding these huge plankton eaters? The outcome could be that these animals will stop migrating and become lazy.
"In the end feeding can kill the animals."
Migration is very important for whale sharks as they go to unknown places to reproduce. Even though the ones at Cebu are not kept in captivity (they are free to go) they will stay close to Oslob because of the food. They are actually made dependent on humans. However beautiful the animals were, I didn’t enjoy this dive as I think feeding is very wrong. In the end feeding can kill the animals. A lesson learnt, that I would like to pass on to every diver - beginner or experienced.
The whale sharks of Oslob provide some income from tourism to the local people but it is far from sustainable. As a great believer in sustainable economy AND tourism I think there are many opportunities to further improve. By using the right energy sources and equipment and/or transport means that don’t hurt our ocean. On a smaller scale we all can contribute by thinking twice about touching and feeding animals, taking shells and corals from the sea or swimming with thick layers of sun screen the ingredients of which damage the coral reefs. Aquanauts are visitors to the ocean and if we want to keep this beautiful place healthy and in good condition for generations to come, it is important to stick to the rule “Leave Nothing But Bubbles” and that includes food.