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The Online Magazine for Sustainable Seas
February, 1998 Vol. 1 No.2
                    What is a Sea Squirt?







By Joel Peter D. Vitug (of Balogo, Sorsogon; age 15), artwork by Alex V. Anonas (of Sorsogon, Sorsogon; age 15). 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

          Caricaran is a small fishing village one-and-a-half kilometers away from the sleepy town of Bacon. Iíve been living there with my family since I was born, in a nipa-and-bamboo house quite near the sea.

          From our house I could see the waves breaking. A short walk would take me to that invisible line that divides the land and sea. There I would look down on the clear water and see a world of wonder, of beautiful seashells and colorful anemones and many different kinds of fish. I would sit there each morning, warmed by the sun rising slowly in the blue horizon. In the afternoon Iíd be on this same spot with the other boys from our village, throwing pebbles into the water.

          It was here, one afternoon, that I saw Father, Uncle Celso and my older brother Empin huddled in discussion, talking in hushed tones.

         "Help us get dynamite," I heard Uncle Celso say.

          I glanced at Father just as Jojo was throwing a pebble into the water. I heard the faint sound of the pebble hitting the water, one, two, three, four times. Then, more distinctly, Jojo, shouting with glee: "Letís see you top that, Pidoy!"

          I did not move, my eyes remained fixed on Father as he spoke. "I cannot go out to fish today, I have a toothache," he said. "You can use some of the dynamite that Iíve been keeping. But you must be very, very careful."

          I took a few steps away from the water, where the waves had left the sand even and free of rocks. I picked up a flat gray pebble the size of a peso coin. Firmly, I held it, feeling its smoothness. Then I pitched with all the strength I could muster. The pebble cut an almost perfect arc through the air into the water. One, two, three, four, five -- five times it skipped on the sea surface.

          "Whoa!" Jojo exclaimed. "I donít think anybody can beat that," he said, shaking my hand.

          I gave him an absent-minded smile. Out of the corner of my eye, I watched Uncle Celso, Empin and Father head slowly for our house. They were very quiet.

          My playmates and I stayed on the beach till dusk. Iíd lost interest in the game, losing every throw with my half-hearted attempts. But I kept at it until the last of my playmates had gone home. Then, aimlessly, I walked and walked and walked still even when it turned very dark. Perhaps I would have kept on walking had I not stepped on something hard. It was metal.

          I crouched down to look more closely. There was just enough light to see the object I stumbled on, a gas lamp, about a foot and a half long, half buried in the sand. The gas cylinder was intact, as was the aluminum wire frame that would have supported the glass tube. The glass tube was missing, and the cylinder was half-filled with seawater. But I figured I could find some use for the lamp.

          I rushed home to clean my find. I filled its cylinder with kerosene and fixed a wick made from a strip of old shirt. A small glass fit snuggly into its aluminum frame. Then I lighted the wick, and a soft yellow glow brightened our hut.

          Suddenly, an explosion rocked our house. Mother and I rushed out and saw Father in shock, all color leaving his face. "Oh God, God, God!" I heard Mother cry, over and over again. All our neighbors were on the beach, looking out to the sea.

          An hour later, an ambulance, called from the town, had arrived, its lights flashing. I heard a man in white say, "Two men, both dead." I didnít need to hear more. I knew it was Empin and Uncle Celso.

          Mother cried. Father walked out of the hut and into the darkness. He said not a word, and for weeks I didnít hear him speak.

          Then, one day, he said, "Iíll go fish."

          "Let me help, Father," I begged.

          "Youíre too young to go to the sea."

         "No, Iím old enough."

          I helped Father prepare our boat.

          "We need a lamp," he said. "Our old one was broken the night of the accident."

          "Maybe we can use this," I showed him my lamp, then lighted it. He did not answer. He seemed to have lost his voice again.

          I could not bear the silence for long. "Father," I said as we walked towards the sea, "we have to stop using dynamite. Itís dangerous. And it destroys the sea."

         "I know, son," he replied. "But we have no choice. Either we use dynamite or we donít eat."

          "Itís wrong, Father," I persisted. "We have to stop doing it."

          Father slung the net on his shoulders, once again not speaking. I got on the boat and held up my lamp as Father pushed our boat to sea. We sailed. I raised the lamp as Father rowed. Then we stopped.

         "Son, set the lamp down and help me with the net," Father instructed.

          I secured the lamp and watched as Father cast the net. We sat, waiting patiently. In the flickering light I could see the lines on Fatherís face. Not a word passed between us.

         Then, on the shimmering water where my lamp cast a faint glow, I saw something move. Fish. Yes! Itís fish, drawn to the sea surface by my lampís warm, yellow light.

          Father rose. We began hauling the net.

          "Pull harder, son," said Father. I could hear his labored breathing, but a tiny smile lightened his face.

          I pulled the net with all my strength, heard the sound of flicking tails and fins, felt the weight of our catch, and in the faint light saw a net full of fish. I glanced at the lamp. Its yellow flame flickered in the breeze, beckoning a new day.

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

and we'll post them on this page. Don't forget to tell us a bit about yourself (your name, age, the name of your town or city and the name of your country).

Adults who write for children are most welcome too!


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