Story by Arvi Michael T. Manubag (15 years old, Baroy, Lanao del Norte), artwork by Bencrusbie B. Santillan (16 years old, Zamboanga del Sur), translated by Marne L. Kilates. This story first appeared in Mga Anak ng Dagat (Children of the Sea), a publication of the Department of Agriculture Fisheries Sector Program, 1995.
At 12, Boyet was no longer going to school. Instead he spent most of his time fishing and diving for shells in Panguil Bay. His father was sick and seldom had the strength to work. His mother, a fish vendor, needed all the help she could get just to put food on the table.
One day, foreign traders came to the shores of Panguil Bay and sought out the wholesalers of Baroy. They wanted to buy big volumes of the young pugapo, a kind of clam. They were willing to pay P5 for each young clam.
The news spread fast, and the whole village was abuzz. "They’re also buying fish and shrimp," said an old fisherman.
"And not just once. If they like our catch, they’ll come back to buy more," said another.
Five pesos for each young pugapo! Boyet thought of the many things he could buy if he just had one big haul of clams. He could buy his father’s medicines. A blouse for his mother. Slippers for little sister. A shirt for himself. And fresh vegetables, fruits, meat and fish! He’d had enough of canned sardines.
"Hey, boy, stop staring into space like an idiot," a fisherman jolted Boyet out of his daydream.
"You better move fast if you want to gather more clams," the old one said.
Boyet laughed at the joke. He hadn’t even a single clam to sell -- yet -- and here he was, dreaming of the things he would buy.
"To work, then," he told himself.
It grew hot fast out in the sea, but Boyet kept working, enduring the blinding sunlight and his aching back and neck. He worked and worked, stopping only to wet his sun-dyed hair and ease the burning fire on his head. He had to gather all the young pugapo he could get.
Then something caught his eye, a huge creature with sharp teeth and a gaping mouth. A shark? he asked himself? It was getting bigger and bigger as it neared, cutting through the waves.
Boyet found himself facing a big ship, its bow painted with the gaping jaws of a shark. The ship lowered a lifeboat carrying several men wearing loose sailor clothes. The men had long knives slung on their backs and waists. They ordered Boyet and the other fishermen to give them all the young pugapo they had gathered. Then they asked for all the fish and shrimp. Everyone obeyed. No one dared say a word. Everything was loaded into the huge ship with the gaping jaws of a shark.
But the strangers were not satisfied. Now they cast a huge net into the sea. Boyet frowned. He knew that such a net would spare nothing. It would haul in all the fish, even the small fry, which would be better catch if they were allowed to grow. These big nets used by the foreigners scoured the sea and swallowed everything that the sea could give. They left nothing in their wake.
Boyet called out to the other fishermen, "We have to stop them! They’ll take everything. They’ll leave us nothing for food. They’re stealing our livelihood!"
But the fishermen, too busy counting their money, ignored him.
Soon, the huge net was bursting with fish, shrimp and clams. But the strangers still were not satisfied. They brought out a big machine that spewed foam in the water. Like a big moaning beast, the machine turned the water into a boiling liquid that invaded the corals, bombarding every nook and cranny of the reef with air. The fish had nowhere to hide. Sick and dizzy in the foaming water, they were flushed out into the open and hauled into the big ship. Only then, full and heavy, did the big ship sail away.
Boyet cried. He felt so angry and so helpless as he watched the ship grow smaller and smaller. "Come back! Come back!" he begged. He could feel his boat rocking in the waves, slowly, then more forcibly.
"Hey, boy, wake up!" the old fisherman was shaking Boyet awake. "Don’t sleep in your boat. You might drown."
Roused from his dream, Boyet exclaimed, "We must not sell our catch to the foreigners!"
The old fisherman gave him a bemused smile and went on with his work. "The kid has caught too much sun," he muttered.
But Boyet could not --
and would not -- forget his dream. He would tell the others about it,
he vowed. He would tell them and convince them.
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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