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

 

 

 

 

 

   

Adapted from Nang Magtampo Ang Mga Tagadagat by Jensen Ryan T. Lim (of Calauag, Quezon; age 15), artwork by Potenciano A. Molina Jr. (of Bgy Sitio Macatoy, Calauag, Quezon; age 14). The 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

          Once upon a time, under the sea not too far from the shore of Barangay Kariktan, lived one big, happy family -- Mama Tuna, Papa Tortoise, Tiny Anchovy, Mack the Mackerel, Old Grouper, Grandpa Sardine, Softie the Squid, Red Shrimpy and Cousin Crab. It was a typical sunny Sunday, they were out in the reef, singing, chatting, laughing, and marveling at the seascape around them, its color and shape changing at every turn.
          Suddenly, Mama Tuna exclaimed, "Something stinks!"
          Papa Tortoise stopped in his tracks and sniffed, "Youíre right. I smell it, too."
          "Yuck!" said Softie the Squid.
          "Letís see where itís coming from," Old Grouper suggested.
          And so they all went, swimming and swimming still until they reached the sea surface. There they saw the source of their distress: All around them were rubbish of all kinds. An old slipper. Some driftwood. A plastic bucket. The shell of a radio. Torn clothes. A dead cat. And on the shore were more trash that would all too soon become flotsam as the tide went in and carried them to sea.
          "Such disrespect! Donít they know there are creatures like us who live in the sea?" Cousin Crab remarked angrily.
          "Heartless," Grandpa Sardine moaned. "Theyíre so heartless."
          Papa Tortoise shook his head as he recalled how people taunted him during his brief visits on land. "They did everything to annoy me. They poked my shell. They tossed and pushed me around. Thatís why I carry my house around."
          "How do you think I shrank to this size?" said Tiny Anchovy. "Itís from too much stress trying to avoid oil slicks, rotting animals, rusty cans. Thereís just too much trash floating around!"

Nearby three garbage groupies -- Filthy Fly, Ratty Rat and Creepy Cockroach -- were eavesdropping on the party.
          "Eeek, eeek, eeek. Listen to Ďem belly-ache," Ratty Rat ranted and ratted.
          "Buzz, buzz, buzz. Some of us just love trash," Filthy Fly mocked, as Creepy Cockroach spread his tacky wings and zipped and zapped about.
          "Itís not a joke!" Mother Tuna protested.
          "Youíre not even worried?" Papa Tortoise exclaimed incredulously.
          "You donít care about anything but your filthy selves. You should be ashamed of yourselves!" Mack the Mackerel, Red Shrimpy and Cousin Crab let out a collective gasp.
          "Yuck!" screamed Softie the Squid.
          Ratty Rat laughed louder. "Ha! What a shrimp!" he mocked.
          "Ah, how sweet the sea smells!" crowed Creepy Cockroach.
          "You can cry. Give me garbage anytime," twitted Filthy Fly.
         And the three garbage groupies snickered and giggled and sang and dance, showing nary a care.
         Distressed, Old Grouper suggested, "Let us tell people about our complaints." And the whole family -- Mama Tuna, Papa Tortoise, Tiny Anchovy, Mack the Mackerel, Old Grouper, Grandpa Sardine, Softie the Squid, Red Shrimpy and Cousin Crab -- put their heads together to work out the best way to draw peopleís attention to their garbage woes. First, they called in the Germ Troops who made the sea smelly and gave people red rashes and itchy scabies. When that didnít work, they invited the Red Army, who turned the seawater into an angry red, making clams, mussels and oysters unfit to eat.
          "Yuck," Softie the Squid declared.
         Finally, the people got the message. They stopped throwing trash and began cleaning up their act. Soon, the water cleared up and became clean and sweet-smelling again. Ratty Rat, Filthy Fly and Creepy Cockroach grumbled, but everyone else was happy: Mama Tuna, Papa Tortoise, Tiny Anchovy, Mack the Mackerel, Old Grouper, Grandpa Sardine, Softie the Squid, Red Shrimpy and Cousin Crab. They all danced for joy.
         Then it happened again: Stinking, filthy trash floated out to sea, filling the sea surface, then the sea bottom. All over the ocean, there was nothing to see but rubbish, rubbish and more rubbish. The sea creatures was aghast, then angry, then sad.
         "Maybe itís time to leave," Mother Tuna said.
         "Our race will die if we stayed," agreed Tiny Anchovy.
         Grandpa Sardine hesitated. "People will go hungry if we leave," he reminded his family.
         But Old Grouper wouldnít be swayed: "They must learn their lesson. They must learn respect."
         "Yuck," Softie the Squid sighed, a tear in his eye.
          So they left, and stayed out of peopleís reach, promising each other they would never return to Barangay Kariktan unless the people there learned to care for the sea. The day they left and many long years after, the fishermen went out sea, again and again, and came back with nothing, not a single fish, not a clam, not one puny shrimp. "How could this happen?" they asked themselves. They were tired and hungry. They were sad. Very, very sad.
          Only the three garbage groupies were happy. Filthy Fly, Ratty Rat and Creepy Cockroach were beside themselves with joy, laughing, shrieking, rolling in the mud, cavorting with maggots.
         "Now we have the sea all to ourselves," they raved and they ranted, making the only sounds, screeching and eerie, in the stinking silent sea.


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.

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