At the end of 2015, the Green Fins members of Malapascua Island underwent their third year of assessments. Malapascua is home to the only place in the world with regular sightings of thresher sharks – which is why it’s so important to protect Monad Shoal, which is famed for its thresher sightings. This year, Monad Shoal has been designated as the Philippines’ first Shark and Ray Sanctuary, specifically designed to protect the vital habitat that the thresher sharks, eagle rays, manta rays and gray reef sharks use as a ‘cleaning station’ to rid themselves of parasites. Meanwhile, above water, the diving industry is also working to protect the environment.
2015 saw another year where 100% of the active dive centres signed up to be members. This is great news as the industry is rapidly growing. Training sessions were held at 18 centres, reaching 184 dive centre staff (24% females). This year, the training included basic coral biology, global and local threats, and simple, realistic tips for the members to make their operations more environmentally friendly.
New trash cans being distributed throughout the tourist areas of Barangay Logon
The shark sanctuary has been so successful that other Philippine regions have been wanting to find out how they can implement the same legislation to better protect Monad Shoal. Working together with local NGO’s Save Philippine Seas and SharkLink, one of the volunteer Green Fins assessors created a document detailing the steps that lead to the successful implementation. The document, which has already received international attention, will serve as a guide for private sector stakeholders who wish to collaborate with the local government to protect the livelihood of the tourism industry and the local population through environmental education and protection. In cooperation with the Malapascua Business Owners Association (MBOA), assessors lobbied the government to provide better solid waste management facilities to better cope with the increasing number of tourists. A small pilot survey was carried out to assess the local population’s opinion of the current facilities and found many people were unsatisfied. Following meetings with the MBOA and the Local Government Unit with assistance from NGO, People and the Sea, large trash cans are now being placed along the main tourism pathways to assist with garbage disposal. Extra trash collections are also being implemented.
Because of many new members joining the Green Fins programme in 2015, the average island score has remained stable with the same level of environmental impact that was recorded in 2014.
New managers of member dive centres who have not received a handover of Green Fins also struggle to continue implementation of environmental policies. This results in an increase in environmental impact due to previous feedback from Green Fins assessments either being changed or forgotten about, such as to include environmental briefings reminding their guests to not come into contact with corals. Without a proper handover, dive guides also revert to their old ways as environmental briefings, and no touch policies may no longer be enforced. However, all members remain passionate advocates of environmental standards, and the third year members have shown a significant decrease in the environmental impact their dive operations are having. This is especially encouraging news and proves to the new members that committing to help the environment does not have to take a big effort but it always has positive results.
Thresher sharks photo: Bo Mancao