Donsol: From Whale Sharks to Fireflies *

Whale Sharks
Whale Sharks

Three very different creatures are known to converge in the municipality of Donsol in Sorsogon. Among them, and the most celebrated, are the whale sharks – largest fish of all.

Whale sharks congregate in Donsol because of all the plankton,” explains WWF-Philippines Project Manager Raul Burce. “Plankton consume nutrients discharged by Donsol’s still-healthy rivers, one of the few habitats where fireflies still thrive. Remove mangroves and the fireflies shall be driven off. Without the healthy rivers needed by fireflies, plankton populations cannot bloom – and the whale sharks will migrate elsewhere. If one component crashes, the others follow suit. This can be catastrophic for the people of Donsol.

The Fireflies

Next come fleets of tiny fireflies, dancing and drifting like ephemeral clouds of light. Finally, legions of people trudge each summer to chance upon both the largest and smallest denizens of Donsol. The fates of all three creatures intertwine, seemingly held in perfect balance.

Donsol Fireflies
Donsol Fireflies in a Firefly River Tour , Beacons of Hope (Gregg Yan)

Sustainable Tourism

Tourism of course, is what transformed Donsol into the boomtown of today. A total of 24,191 local and foreign visitors swam with the gentle giants from December to June 2011.

Donsol’s Municipal Tourism Office estimated that the 2010 season alone generated over P100M ($2.3M) from transportation, food, lodging, registration fees plus whale shark, mangrove and firefly tours. Around P20M ($465K) was retained by the local government, bolstering incomes and improving lives.

Malaking tulong ang turismo sa mga taga-Donsol. Nakabili kami ng bangka, kagamitan sa bahay at nakatapos rin ng pag-aaral ang mga anak ko,” (Tourism gave us a big boost. We were able to buy an outrigger boat, household appliances, plus my children were able to finish school.) says Jasmine Yanson, a 36-year old mother of seven,

Donsol Mangroves
Donsol Mangroves, Restoring Productivity (Raul Burce)

It is thus important to conserve not just whale sharks, but mangroves and other critical ecosystems which ensure the livelihood of Donsolanos.

World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF-Philippines)

To further this, environmental-solutions provider World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF-Philippines) spearheaded a vigorous reforestation drive to plant 10,000 mangrove seedlings in Donsol’s Barangay Sibago last 13 December 2011 together with the Department of Natural Resources, Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources, Department of Tourism, Armed Forces of the Philippines and numerous local organizations partook in the INDRA and Fluor Daniel Philippines-funded initiative.

* This article is partially edited from the document shared and written by Gregg Yan (Communications & Media Manager of World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF-Philippines)). Log on to to know more of WWF’s work in the Philippines.

Donsol Butanding Whale Shark - Biggest Fish (Jurgen Freund)
Donsol Butanding Whale Shark - Biggest Fish (Jurgen Freund)

Donsol has long been a point of convergence. Today, dozens of groups have united to protect its productivity. Just imagine what this place can be in ten years,” gestures Burce towards ordered rows of freshly-planted mangroves. “When fireflies return to light up this forest, we’ll know that balance has been restored.

I hope to be back in Donsol soon to swim with the whale sharks and see the fireflies again. It has been almost 6 years since I last saw a Butanding (LetsGoSago,net).

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