By Nicole Fox
More than 100 million sharks are killed each year in what is now a billion-dollar industry. With the help of an organization funded by the United States, one Philippine municipality has made shark ecotourism the center of its economy.
Malapascua, a Philippine island fewer than two miles long, has become a world-famous dive destination due to a shallow shoal frequented by pelagic thresher sharks that typically roam deeper waters. Now divers from around the globe flock here to encounter these elusive and photogenic long-tailed sharks.
In line with U.S. efforts to combat crimes against conservation, strengthen environmental governance and promote economic development, the Regional Environment Hub in Bangkok provided a $25,000 grant to local organization Save Philippine Seas that helps protect threatened shark species and provide environmental and economic benefits to the surrounding community. With U.S. support, Save Philippine Seas enhanced resource management efforts, mapped new marine protected areas, drafted relevant municipal ordinances, supported marine biodiversity education efforts and conducted legal training for marine authorities. Recognizing the ecological and economic value of protecting these sharks, local authorities have also become enthusiastic conservation partners, making the province the first in the Philippines to ban the shark trade. This ban includes catching, selling, trading and even possessing sharks and shark products. These collective efforts have paid economic dividends and now marine ecotourism drives 80 percent of the local economy. With just a small amount of U.S. support, local stakeholders have helped create a sustainable industry for the island’s growing economy.
Nicole Fox is chief of the Environment, Science, Technology, Health and Energy Unit at Embassy Manila.