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Reef-based tourism has been developing rapidly in recent decades yet its impacts on reef ecosystems are often overlooked. In Tan-awan, Oslob, Philippines, whale sharks are attracted to the shallow reefs where they are provisioned up to 50 tons y⁻¹ of feed and this phenomenon in turn attracts >300,000 y⁻¹ visitors. Given the intensive provisioning and concentrating tourism activities, we hypothesized that the whale shark tourism-impacted site (IS) will have greater impacts on reef degradation and higher anthropogenic nitrogen pollution level compared to its reference site (RS). Ecological surveys revealed that relative to the RS, the IS had 36% higher relative abundance of Pocillopora and Porites coral over other genera, >2.5-fold lower coral density, and 20% higher macroalgal cover, which we concluded are signs of reef degradation. Also, we conducted stable nitrogen isotope analysis on gorgonian skeletons to trace nitrogen sources at both sites through time. Although an average 1‰ isotope enrichment found in the IS relative to the RS could indicate anthropogenic nitrogen inputs in the IS, this enrichment was consistent over time and existed before the tourism developed. Despite that, we cautioned against the imminent threat of local eutrophication caused by the continued inputs of nitrogen derived from provisioning and tourism activities. In summary, this study provided the first documentation of the impacts of provisioned whale shark tourism on the local reefs in Tan-awan and established an ecological baseline for future comparisons. Such assessments can offer important information on reef health, coastal development, and tourism management.
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Environmental Management (2019) 63:282291
https://doi.org/10.1007/s00267-018-1125-3
Whale Shark Tourism: Impacts on Coral Reefs in the Philippines
C. W. Martin Wong1Inga Conti-Jerpe1Laurie J. Raymundo2Caroline Dingle3Gonzalo Araujo4
Alessandro Ponzo4David M. Baker 1
Received: 27 April 2018 / Accepted: 26 November 2018 / Published online: 4 December 2018
© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2018
Abstract
Reef-based tourism has been developing rapidly in recent decades yet its impacts on reef ecosystems are often overlooked. In
Tan-awan, Oslob, Philippines, whale sharks are attracted to the shallow reefs where they are provisioned up to 50 tons y1of
feed and this phenomenon in turn attracts >300,000 y1visitors. Given the intensive provisioning and concentrating tourism
activities, we hypothesized that the whale shark tourism-impacted site (IS) will have greater impacts on reef degradation and
higher anthropogenic nitrogen pollution level compared to its reference site (RS). Ecological surveys revealed that relative to
the RS, the IS had 36% higher relative abundance of Pocillopora and Porites coral over other genera, >2.5-fold lower coral
density, and 20% higher macroalgal cover, which we concluded are signs of reef degradation. Also, we conducted stable
nitrogen isotope analysis on gorgonian skeletons to trace nitrogen sources at both sites through time. Although an average
1isotope enrichment found in the IS relative to the RS could indicate anthropogenic nitrogen inputs in the IS, this
enrichment was consistent over time and existed before the tourism developed. Despite that, we cautioned against the
imminent threat of local eutrophication caused by the continued inputs of nitrogen derived from provisioning and tourism
activities. In summary, this study provided the rst documentation of the impacts of provisioned whale shark tourism on the
local reefs in Tan-awan and established an ecological baseline for future comparisons. Such assessments can offer important
information on reef health, coastal development, and tourism management.
Keywords Tourism management Whale shark tourism Reef degradation Coastal development Eutrophication
Retrospective isotope analysis
Introduction
In recent decades, reef-based tourism has been rapidly
developing worldwide (Spalding et al. 2017). Generally, the
industry supports economic growth and creates alternative
livelihoods for local people especially among developing
nations (Hall 2001). This is also the case in Barangay
(village) Tan-awan, Municipality of Oslob, southern Cebu,
Philippines (Fig. 1) where whale shark tourism has been
growing rapidly since late 2011. Here, whale sharks are
attracted to the shallow reefs year-round where they are
provisioned (fed) up to 50 tons y1sergestid shrimp, which
provides an opportunity for the operation of tourist
encounters with the worlds largest sh species. With more
than 300,000 visitors per year (record in 2015; visitor
numbers have been increasing in following years), Tan-
awan has become one of the largest whale shark watching
destinations in the world, generating at least $5M USD
annually (Tourist Logbook, Oslob Local Government Unit;
Araujo et al. 2017). This income is shared within a tour-
*David M. Baker
dmbaker@hku.hk
1The Swire Institute of Marine Science and School of Biological
Sciences, The University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong Special
Administrative Region, China
2University of Guam Marine Laboratory, UOG Station,
Mangilao, GU 96923, USA
3Department of Earth Sciences, The University of Hong Kong,
Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, China
4Large Marine Vertebrates Research Institute Philippines, Cagulada
Compound, Barangay Tejero, Jagna, Bohol 6308, Philippines
Supplementary material The online version of this article (https://
doi.org/10.1007/s00267-018-1125-3) contains supplementary
material, which is available to authorized users.
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