Indonesia: Gorontalo whale shark site reopens, with new rules

Syamsul Huda M. Suhari The Jakarta Post 18 Apr 16;

A whale shark viewing site reopened on Sunday off Botubarani village in Bone Bolango regency, Gorontalo, with bans on visitors feeding and touching the animals.

Gorontalo Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Agency head Sutrisno said the area, which was previously unregulated and freely accessible to local people and tourists, was closed off completely for one week while the provincial administration formulated rules for visitors.

Prior to the regulations, the waters were swarmed by visitors. Photos of people feeding, touching and riding on the backs of whale sharks in Botubarani can easily be found on social media.

Since opening as a viewing site, the new regulations aim to support the conservation of the animals. Hundreds of visitors have once again flocked to the site since its reopening.

Sutrisno said the administration had secured a 1-hectare protection zone for the whale sharks.

“Fishermen and visitors are not allowed to enter or pass through the zone [in which the whale sharks typically congregate], which is very close to the shoreline,” he said.

Sutrisno added that the only people allowed inside the area would be workers who fed the whale sharks three times a day.

The new regulation bans the use of motorboats in the zone. It also imposes fees of Rp 15,000 (US$1.10) on visitors and Rp 50,000 on divers who wish to view the sharks from the perimeters of the secured area.

Revenue from the fees will be used to buy food for the whale sharks, which eat shrimp, and for the village’s coffers. Divers are only allowed to visit the area in small groups, accompanied by official guides.

Meanwhile, Whale Shark Indonesia project leader Mahardika Rizqi Himawan said the management of the new tourist attraction should come under a single organization capable of watching over the protected animals, which are prone to extinction.

Mahardika said the feeding of whale sharks by humans would change their behavior.

“The behavior of whale sharks in Botubarani has changed, as they appear the moment boats arrive. They assume they will get food from visitors,” he said.

Whale Shark Indonesia is currently in Gorontalo to conduct research and identify behaviors of the sharks.

Based on preliminary observations, whale sharks in Botubarani are immature and measure between five and seven meters long.

Previously, residents reported that whale sharks often visited the village over the past two years, especially since the establishment of a shrimp processing plant, which disposes of waste products into the sea.

As many as eight whale sharks are reported to be approaching the area every morning and afternoon.

However, in recent days, Whale Shark Indonesia could only identify seven individuals, all of them male.

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