How to be a good underwater guest
Tomasito G. Umali (The Philippine Star) - October 1, 2015 - 10:00am

MANILA, Philippines - “We are the visitors to their underwater home. We should be gracious and respectful guests.”

This was the principle from Marine Wildlife Watch Philippines (MWWP) which guided multi-sectoral participants during the National Consultation for the Joint Administrative Order (JAO) on the guidelines for marine wildlife tourism interaction in the Philippines held recently at the Diamond Hotel in Manila.

The Department of Tourism (DOT), through its Office of Tourism Standards and Regulation and Office of Tourism Planning, Research and Information Management, is working with the MWWP and Responsible Tourism Philippines, both non-government agencies, for the development and approval of the Rules and Regulations for Marine Wildlife Tourism in the Philippines.

The issuance of a JAO among the lead agencies consisting of the DOT, Department of Environment and Natural Resources, Department of Agriculture and its Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) and Department of the Interior and Local Government was proposed during a previous national workshop held in May 2014. The workshop was held in Panglao, Bohol and was participated in by international and national marine wildlife experts, who were consulted on the scientifically accepted practices of visitors’ interaction with marine wildlife. 

“We are working very closely with other lead agencies and the tourism industry. We have initiated focus group discussions and consultations with stakeholders; undertaken assessment of marine wildlife sites; drafted action plans and seeking agency commitments to support the JAO. Our objectives for the JAO are to protect marine wildlife and their habitats, ensure visitors’ enjoyment and safety, as well as the sustainability of tourism activities in order to provide continuing education and decent livelihood for members of host communities,” said DOT director Maria Rica Bueno.  

With officials from the DOT, BFAR, local government units, non-governmental organizations and tour operators as participants, the national consultation went through the proposed JAO’s provisions on zonation, code of conduct, length of interaction time, distance and maximum number of visitors per animal and per zone, penalties, collaboration with relevant government agencies and private entities and prohibited acts during interactions such as attempts to touch or ride a whale shark, restricting normal movement of a sting ray, irresponsible snorkeling and diving, use of flash photography, noise, eutrophication, siltation, poor coastal development planning, among others.

According to AA Yaptinchay, aqua ecologist and MWWP director, the JAO is consistent with related legislations such as Republic Act 9147 (The Wildlife Resources Conservation and Protection Act), RA 8550 (The Philippine Fisheries Code), RA 9593 (Tourism Act of 2009) and RA 7160 (Local Government Code).



In late 2014, DOT subjected the proposed JAO to a Regulatory Impact Assessment (RIA). Philip Bomford, Australian social scientist and a consultant of the Asian Development Bank, revealed that RIA examines the overall benefits and costs of several alternative policy options. In this way, the RIA findings can help ensure that the JAO is appropriate, well-targeted and effective in the attainment of its objectives. 

Further, it can guarantee that the JAO imposes the lowest possible burden on all related businesses and the local residents of the host community.  

“The previous Republic Acts and related directives were enacted when marine wildlife tourism was not yet big business in the Philippines. Hence, we are now doing the JAO to make certain that the coastal environment, its fauna and flora and the local people as well as domestic and foreign visitors are taken care of, which will take time and a lot of work,” Bueno explained.

Some tourism destinations with popular marine wildlife activities in the country include Moalboal, Oslob and Malapascua in Cebu; Panglao in Bohol; Donsol in Sorsogon; Anilao and Verde Island in Batangas; Coron in Palawan; Dauin in Negros Oriental; Puerto Galera in Oriental Mindoro; Apo Reef in Occidental Mindoro.

On the other hand, Babuyan Islands in Cagayan, Sto. Domingo in Albay and Mati in Davao Oriental are some of the fast emerging dive sites.

“Tourism activities that involve marine wildlife interaction are increasing in our country.  Without proper planning, these tourism activities could have detrimental consequences not only to marine species and their natural habitat, but to tourists as well. In light of this situation, we have embarked on the comprehensive and intensive study so we can pursue marine wildlife tourism throughout the Philippines in a responsible, ethical, and very sustainable way,” Tourism Secretary Ramon Jimenez Jr. said.

For inquiries and feedback, call 459-5200 local 205 or e-mail Photos by Tim Rock

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