After a decade of solid WWF intervention, Donsol became one of the most popular tourist destinations in the Philippines because of the seasonal migration of whale sharks (Rhincodon typus), which allowed snorkelers to see the harmless, giant fish up close. The initial results of WWF's research revealed that Donsol hosts one of the highest aggregations of whale sharks on Earth, with 469 individual sharks identified by 2016.
Donsol's whale sharks brought in droves of visitors – both domestic and international. Year on year, arrivals revealed a dramatic upward trend with a peak of 25,000 tourists. New income, investment and employment opportunities sprang up. Side by side with their traditional livelihood of fishing, ecotourism became the Donsolanos' second engine of economic growth. This dramatic shift was birthed by strong partnerships between WWF, the local government unit of Donsol, the Department of Tourism, direct tourism service providers and other key stakeholders.
As the years went by, it became apparent that sustaining such rapid growth would involve a series of social, economic, environmental and political challenges. In the last two seasons, WWF field personnel observed a drastic decline in whale shark sightings. Tourist arrivals consequently plummeted by half of what was recorded in the summer of 2011.
To maintain the benefits generated by whale shark ecotourism for Donsol's economy, stronger conservation measures, rather than mere protection of the species, will have to be emplaced. It was originally believed that these animals came to Donsol to feed and possibly breed. To maximize the chances of the sharks' return, it is essential to manage and rehabilitate both the coastal ecosystems and the rivers that provide Donsol's seas with life-giving nutrients.
To address these challenges, WWF facilitates the realization of realistic plans, programmes, policies, studies, advocacies and networking actions. Donsol collaborated with WWF to conduct an assessment of its three major rivers, plus the formulation of a comprehensive land and water use plan (CLWUP) for the entire municipality. The study investigates the wide-ranging parameters of the region's rivers. A river management plan was created as part of a holistic and sustainable approach in developing the area. The CLWUP will also prescribe limits such as carrying capacities, regulations and standards for coastal and other rural developments.