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The Online Magazine for Sustainable Seas
April, 1998 Vol. 1 No. 4
                    What is a Sea Squirt?







By Rabbie B. Jumao-os (of Punta, Ormoc City; age 16), artwork by Cristobal R. Siega (of San Antonio, Tomas Oppus, Southern Leyte; age 15), translation by Marne L. Kilates. This story first appeared in 1995 in Mga Anak ng Dagat (Children of the Sea), a publication of the Fisheries Sector Program Management Office of the Department of Agriculture, 880 Quezon Ave., Quezon City, Philippines.

          Rabbie watched as the sea turned brown under the onslaught of heavy rains. He had lived a long time with his family in Barangay Punta in Ormoc, Leyte, but he couldnít recall ever seeing the sea turn this angry color of mud. Alarmed, he called his father and mother. His father, Mang Terio, was a fisherman. His mother, Aling Sela, sold his fatherís catch in the town market.

"Pa, Ma! The sea, look! Itís turning into mud!" he exclaimed.

          "Itís nothing," Mang Terio replied, pausing only a moment from mending his fishing net.

         "But, look, Terio, itís spreading fast," Aling Sela said worriedly. "I think itís eroded soil being washed down from the mountain. You know how people have been felling trees there for lumber."

          "Well, thatís their problem," Mang Terio answered. "They cut the trees, they clean up their own mess. Itís not our concern."

          Rabbie stayed silent. But he was scared. He remembered the things he learned in school: all things on this planet were connected, each had something to do with the other. The sea was connected to the mountain, the mountain to the sea and the air. People, animals, plants were all connected to one another.

          "We canít do anything," Mang Terio repeated. "How can we stop the loggers?"

          Rabbie could only think, "Why not? Why couldnít we all act together to save our ourselves? Alone, we couldnít do much, but together..."

          "Rabbie, shouldnít you be on your way to school?" Aling Sela interrupted his thoughts. "Here, donít forget your schoolbag and lunch."

          The next few days gave Rabbie more reason to worry. Often, Mang Terio would come back from the sea empty-handed. Or heíd find many, many fish, all of them dead and floating at sea.

          Aling Sela would often say, "We have to do something to stop the loggers who are leaving the mountains bald and wasted." Still, Mang Terio said nothing. When the rains came, it got worse. Mang Terio almost had to stop fishing

Then disaster struck. Rabbie would never in his life forget that day: the 5th of November. Heíd heard there was a storm warning, but people paid no attention. They were used to storms. They were not overly worried.

          On his way to school, Rabbie noticed the weather had turned warm and humid, though there was no sign of rain or bad weather. Things went on as usual at school. Then, at 11am, it happened: A loud crashing sound jolted Rabbie and his classmates. Going out to investigate, they saw the school fence had given way to some enormous weight. Then an electric post came crashing down as heavy rains began to fall. The wind was howling.

          Hastily dismissed from class, frightened children went home crying and soaking wet. Everywhere they saw the muddy water slowly rising.

          Rabbie ran home as fast as he could. He found Aling Sela trembling with fright but still bravely helping Mang Terio pack their belongings in boxes and blankets.

          "Where are we going, Ma?" Rabbie asked.

          "Just follow me, son," she replied.

          Seconds after they ran out of their house and up the street where the water was not so deep, their house gave way to the murky, rampaging water. Not much later, they stood in stunned silence, watching the sea cough out from its belly the bloated bodies of humans and animals. There was nothing they could do but watch: Rabbie stood there feeling helpless, biting his trembling lips. Vaguely, he saw his mother shake her head in disbelief, too distraught to cry, her eyes red from unshed tears. Questions whirled over and over in his mind: How could the water rise so high, so fast? Why?

          Rabbieís father had months in which to ponder these questions, months when the entire community of Barangay Punta had no electricity and no water, when people had to rely on doleouts for food and clothing. This time, it was he who raised the issue.

          "Weíve done the sea and the mountain so much damage, thatís why," he said.

          Everything is connected, the mountains, the sea, the air, the trees, the animals, people," Rabbie added to himself. "If only weíd learned our lesson well. And earlier."

Itís never too late. Soon, Rabbieís family and community had recovered enough to go back to the way they were before the big flood. But with a big difference.

"Father, I hope we can do something to prevent the flood from happening again," Rabbie said.

"That we will do, son," Mang Terio answered without hesitation. "We will help in the campaign to stop the cutting of trees. We will help protect the mountains and the forests and the seas."

Date: November 5, 1991
Estimated No. of Fatalities: More than 6,000
Immediate Cause: Heavy rains brought by typhoon Uring. Before the rains came, the weather bureau had raised Storm Signal No.1 (the lowest alert level) to warn people of the impending storm.
Probable Root Cause: Loss of forest cover in the uplands, which have been converted to coconut and sugarcane plantations; improper land use.
Steps Taken To Prevent Similar Disasters: Dredging of waterways; relocation of people living near waterways to 'safer ground'; prohibition on the establishment of new human settlements near waterways.


What is a Sea Squirt?

Sea squirts are marine organisms belonging to the family Ascidiaceae. Though seldom noticed or distinguished by casual divers and snorkelers, they are highly interesting and important. They are diverse and colorful, and inhabit all types of marine habitats. They filter bacteria from seawater and can store heavy metals in their tunic (a flexible external covering or 'exoskeleton'). A number of important products have been identified in sea squirts, making these organisms a good candidate for discovery of potential medicinal compounds from the sea.

Children Speak!

This page is for you. If you have any poetry, artwork, photos, comments, experiences about the sea, news, suggestions, questions -- anything at all that you would like to say about our ocean -- send it to

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Adults who write for children are most welcome too!


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