Wednesday, February 28, 2007
When I and my friends arrived at Calatagan, it was as if we descended on a new planet altogether. Come to think: we came from the city, and the sight of the sea and of the rural setting seemed to us an alien seascape and landscape. However, the pristine-appearing area is not as untouched as it wished to communicate itself.
We were told that the bounty of the waters has steadily lowered year after year. The marine life is dying because of the rampant illegal fishing operations. A fish surfaced, but dove as soon as gulping enough air to breathe underwater. I thought, maybe it was wary that we humans were among those who heedlessly throw dynamites in order to obliterate fish life, great and small, off the surface of the sea. The man guiding us lamented that the unlawful fishing activities caused the sea farmers’ income plummeting. He was smiling when he recounted how pathetic it was when he staggered onto shore one fishing time, only to offer his wife a sorry batch of slim fingerlings not even worth a kid’s meal. His smile conveyed the opposite emotion of sadness.
We produced our camera and began clicking around, shooting at best angles. From afar, a black dot sailed serenely, but it came to me that maybe it was what one fisherman told us: that foreign poachers from neighboring Asian countries must be unconscientiously cruising the ocean to haul fish from within the Philippine area of naval responsibility. Some Taiwanese ship maybe, or Chinese fishermen, rolling in laughter while taking out wriggling giants out of water while their local counterparts do not even have a decent meal to eat. The sea was inviting, and the boys were too shameless to decline the allure of the bottle-green waters. Off their shirts go, and as they bob in and out of the water, they seemed to be like the only creatures belonging to the sea. Perhaps that’s what Calatagan waters and the rest of the world’s oceans are bound to experience: when the aquatic creatures are finally no more, the lonely planet may jump onto the water to try to populate it once more, to no avail.
Sea turtles used to abound the domain, but owing to the sea hunters’ perfect game that turtles were, they eventually vanished. They maybe slow, but sensing the terrible fate they would get from humans, they gradually ran for their precious lives. They, along with other underwater creatures, must have learned their lessons the hard way when even the humans formulating laws and given the stewardship role of nature were the very creatures contributing to their increasing decline.
Onshore, we were greeted by fabulously-colored starfishes. We were free to pick them up. I wondered if they were that easy to fall prey to human hunters. Did they get to use their built-in sting to express the bitterness of their bodies for creatures who caused their ruthless disappearance? Not far away, a small group gathered at the coral formations jutting out of the sea. I gathered that these corals were actually accumulated skeletons of microscopic sea animals. Did they get hurt whenever humans stomp on them or feed them dynamites to send residing fishes thrashing into the open?
Rouge-colored seaweeds with rather hard bodies were strewn along the way. We were told they were gulamans. They were a far cry from the jellies I relish during weekend afternoons back in my childhood. They serve as alternative livelihood products for the farmers, since the natural sea resources have deteriorated anyway and fish bounty were hard to come by unlike before. We took pictures of the sturdy-bodied gulamans; they must be beautiful, soft and graceful-moving down the sea bottom.
Mangroves from not so far away showed their decrepit roots, resembling an old man’s limbs reaching out for help. The industry of mangroves looked just that: dying. Having come from an urban place, I thought they looked regular, but our guide said they looked healthier when human activities were far and between. A puddle of murky water near the mangroves reflected our faces and looking at it, we could only say sorry to ourselves.