OWS uses grass roots marine tourism to provide livelihoods for fishers and their community, reducing poverty whilst conserving whale sharks, coral reefs and fish.

August 4, 2017

Philippines Placeholder

OWS uses grass roots marine tourism to provide livelihoods for fishers and their community, reducing poverty whilst conserving whale sharks, coral reefs and fish.

About the Implementing organization

Name: Oslob Whale Sharks

Country: Philippines

Year of establishment: 2012

Type of organization: Community-based association or organization, Community enterprise or business , Cooperative business, Indigenous group or organization


OWS is innovative and different because:
• It is the most financially, environmentally and developmentally successful community based marine tourism initiative in the worldo more effective than any top down marine tourism development initiativeo Injects conservatively 27 times more income directly into fishers and community over 4 years (2012-2015), than best practice expatriate or local elite owned marine tourism businesses• It is a grass roots initiative designed by fishers for fishers, to earn income from a natural phenomena – fishers’ relationship with whale sharks  migrating through Tan-awano OWS uses only infrastructure and assets available to fishers – small non-motorised banca, land owned by TOSWFA familieso relies on existing skills and lifestyle to catch krill, control feeding and tourist banca in currents, creating stronger satisfaction in changing livelihoods from fishing • There are no economic leakages. All income stays in the community• Livelihood benefits touch every person in Tan-awano Increase incomeo Improve food security• Empowers the whole community - fishers, community, bureaucrats and politicians • Environmentalo Bantay Dagat paid to protect whale sharks from illegal fishing o Fishing pressure is reduced as fishers work in tourismo Regulations prohibit destructive fishing gear - hook and line onlyo Fish stocks are increasedo Livelihoods reduce reliance on marine resources, turning fishers from extractive users into protectors

Nature Element

Oceans / Coasts / Wildlife

Type of Action

Protection / Sustainable use / Access and benefit sharing / Awareness and education

Sustainable Development Element

Jobs and livelihoods / Food security

Related Sustainable Development Goal(s)


Environmental Impacts

Whale sharks are an IUCN Red List Vulnerable species, prey to illegal fishing in the waters of Oslob. The coral reefs and fisheries of Tan-awan are heavily exploited and hit hard by typhoons. OWS protects whales sharks from illegal fishing, stops the over exploitation of coral reefs and sea grass beds, reduces fishing effort and finances 5 marine reserves in the area.

OWS pays allowance for Bantay Dagat (volunteer Sea Wardens) to patrol Oslob waters, protecting whale sharks from illegal fishing and the subsidises cooperation of National Police on sea patrols. Beaches and streets are cleaned daily.

Livelihoods to fishers and community have reduced reliance on marine resources, changing fishers from extractive users into protectors of whale sharks and coral reefs. The financial and livelihood success of OWS raises the profile of whale sharks internationally; the need for, and benefits of, protection.

Challenges remain in managing sewerage runoff from overburdened septic tanks.

Sustainable Development Impacts

Income allows OWS and government to bring sustainable development to communities in the form of:Income allows OWS and government to bring sustainable development to communities in the form of:
Improvements in food security; health; housing; shelter; assets; education; elder care; reuniting of families; inclusion of the marginalised; water, electricity and roads infrastructure;
The creation of wealth and equitable access to resources through decent work for fishers, business opportunities for women (souvenirs, food, restaurants, accommodation); private sector growth in financial services; access to credit; employment of youths; livelihood training
Improvements in empowerment, self esteem, cultural identity and community cohesion
All levels of government protect OWS and work for sustainable development; engagement with National Police on enforcement; responding to closure threats from Donsol
Conserving whale sharks, coral reefs and fish; reducing fishing pressure; financing conservation in 5 marine sanctuaries


OWS can be scaled up or down to operate at the level required. OWS was scaled up, drawing increasingly high numbers of national and international tourist to provide higher incomes to TOSWFA fishers, the barangay of Tan-awan and Municipality of Oslob ($US5.2m over 4 years).

OWS started as one fisher luring a whale shark closer to shore. With income conservatively estimated at around $US663,000 in its first year, over 4 years (2012-2015), OWS experienced growth of over 226% through word of mouth.

Scaling up was achieved by increasing the size of interaction site, hiring more banca from fishers and bringing more members into TOWSFA.

Importantly, TOWSFA partnered early with the Barangay Captain and Mayor. Partnering shares income and benefits; gaining community support, expertise in infrastructure, finance, and municipal and political support. Together, OWS has built the capacity of the barangay and municipality to alleviate poverty and conserve whale sharks, coral reefs and fish.



Scaled models of grass roots marine tourism, like OWS, can be replicated around the Philippines and the equator to diversify the livelihoods of fishers and communities and create sustainable development whilst conserving marine wildlife.

OWS is based on the daily presence of whale sharks in near shore waters. Its authenticity comes from fishers paddling tourists in traditional banca, watching feeders and sliding into the water with whale sharks. Many coastal communities around the equator have marine resources (whales sharks, dolphins, whales, manta rays, turtles, fish, sea otters, sea birds, sea snakes). The quality, proximity and reliability of the marine wildlife attraction, the authenticity of the experience, the way it is managed and the engagement of community and local government all influence replicability.

Researching OWS as a bright spot in community based marine tourism, has allowed the building of a model of best practice, to guide implementation in different locations.

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