Sunday, April 24, 2016

Donsol readies for Butanding Festival in May
By Danny O. Calleja

DONSOL, Sorsogon, April 24 (PNA) -- The local government here on Sunday said preparations for its Butanding (whale shark) Festival are in full swing.

“From April, the usual start of the peak of the butanding season, we have moved the festival to May so that it coincides with our traditional celebration for the town fiesta in honor of our patron, St. Joseph the Worker, that starts on the 18th of the month,” Mayor Josephine Alcantara-Cruz said.

She said the first reason behind the change in schedule is for Donsolanons living somewhere else outside the municipality, particularly in Metro Manila and abroad who come home only for the fiesta, to be able to witness and enjoy. too, the festival which serves as an occasion of thanksgiving for the economic blessings that the presence of whale sharks gives to the locality.

Besides, the mayor said, this year’s season for whale shark tourism in the municipality has started irregularly in January, instead of the usual period that in the past years would come in the months of November through June.

During this period in the past since the official discovery of the marine mammals in the local waters way back 1998, schools of these marine mammals usually arrive from nowhere of the ocean and stay near the mouth of the Donsol River to take advantage of the continuous abundance of plankton that fill their diet, to mate and even breed.

Since then, this third class municipality has been known as the Whale Shark Capital of the World and achieved tremendous local tourism industry gains.

Barely 18 years ago, Donsol, which sits 540 kilometers southeast of Manila, was described as a sleepy rural community where weathered public utility vehicles spurred swirling clouds on dusty, unpaved roads.

Over years following its discovery as seasonal sanctuary of whale sharks, it captured international attention with the World Wildlife Fund (WWF)-Philippines spearheading a holistic conservation program which ranges from satellite butanding tagging and photo-identification, to the effective management of tourism impacts.

Since then, the national government has poured in funds to improve the 29-kilometer main road linking the area to the Maharlika Highway and road networks within and outside the municipality to make them more accessible to land trips.

The biggest among these road improvement projects being undertaken by the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) are the ongoing Php769.2-million Donsol-Pioduran and the Php700-million Donsol-Jovellar-Guinobatan roads that have opened new convenient and shorter routes between the municipality and the southeastern sections of Albay.

The road connection between Donsol and Pioduran would also allow tourists to move around ecotourism sites along the coastline of Ticao Pass and jump through the Pioduran port to Burias, Masbate, a quaint island that offers unexplored ancient landmarks and pristine beaches away from the hassles of urban life.

The Donsol-Jovellar-Guinobatan road, whose 25-kilometer section between the first two municipalities is now almost done, on the other hand, makes travel shorter for tourists who after here are now raring to make journeys down the newly-known ecotourism wonders of Jovellar—Albay’s town of exciting rivers, astounding caves, magnificent falls and exotic underground rivers.

It also leads tourists to areas covered by the third district of Albay where Mt. Mayon’s southwestern quadrant could be closely viewed as well as Ligao City, the site of the alluring Kawa-Kawa Hill and Nature Park.

Whale sharks are species of giant sea mammals scientifically called Rhincodon typus.

They are slow-moving filter-feeding sharks and the largest extant fish species, reaching as big as 13 meters in body length and weighing more than 21 metric tons, and are migratory in nature but some of them have adopted the waters here as residence.

Friendly to human beings, these creatures swim from surface to mid-water and with their size, they are hard to miss.

Usually, Cruz said, this resident group composed of around eight fully matured butandings would stay behind after the feeding season and continue entertaining tourists and visitors until September then disappear from public view and stay not farther than the nearby Manta Bowl to wait for their next season.

The Manta Bowl is a deep portion of Ticao Pass that is sanctuary of manta rays, an equally-protected marine wildlife species.

Study says that the largest annual congregation of the whale sharks is in the coastal waters of this municipality where they migrate in vast number to take advantage of the dense food concentration of plankton and krill which is brought about by the current patterns, water temperature and the general health of the sea.

Starting 2012 down to 2013 and until the early months of 2014, however, no whale shark arrived, idling the tourism industry of the municipality that in the past years would be visited by an average of 25,000 tourists yearly.

During these periods of absence, the butandings stayed away from the high temperature of the Donsol waters and lack of food due to intense heat of summer, Cruz explained.

"Now that they are back, we are inviting all butanding and fun-lovers to come and join the biggest festival ever for the biggest sea mammal in the world and let your imagination run big and wild with the launch of extra-large activities for this year’s extraordinary festival that guarantees super-sized fun, adventure and memories,” she said.

It will feature a bigger regatta, fluvial parade with boats carrying colorful banners and giant images of the butanding along the Donsol River, a street parade of life-size images of the butandings on floats accompanied by barangay delegations, brass bands, drum and bugle corps, and festival street-dancing contingent winners from other Bicol provinces.

The town fiesta, on the other hand, will be composed of Eucharistic celebrations, mass christening of babies, food gatherings featuring sumptuous local cuisines and religious processions, the mayor added. (PNA) BNB/FGS/DOC/CBD