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The Online Magazine for Sustainable Seas
May, 1998 Vol. 1 No. 5
                    What is a Sea Squirt?









By Sarah R. Dioscoro (of Guagua, Pampanga), artwork by Michael B. Daniel (of Obando, Bulacan), 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. Sarah was 12 when she wrote the story. Now 24 and a graduate of BS Elementary Education, she works as e-Learning Management Consultant of the iDIWA/DIWA Learning Systems. (This information about the author was last updated on 04 August 2006).

The Lorenzo family – Mang Berto, Aling Leila and their daughter Leila -- lived along the shore of Limay, Bataan. For many, many years, they earned a good living and got enough food from the nearby sea.

Soon Limay became more crowded, and more and more people came and built their houses along the shore. Even the factories came, occupying land alongside the ever-multiplying houses.

One day, the Lorenzo family heard about a plan to build an oil factory in their place.

"Wouldn’t it be bad for the sea?" Aling Nelia asked Mang Berto. "We must talk to our neighbors and find out what they think. We have to do something about it."

"No," replied Mang Berto. "That factory has nothing to do with the sea. And it will be good for our community. It will give people jobs."

Leila heard all this and began to fret. She had learned in school about the evils of pollution, especially pollution coming from big factories. But, not wanting to contradict her father, she didn’t say a word.

And so, the oil factory was built. In the beginning, many people were glad because the factory gave many of them jobs. But a few weeks later, Leila notice an odd change in their surroundings.

"Mother, the seawater smells really funny," Leila said. "And its color is changing."

Sometimes the water was the color of coffee and milk, sometimes it turned black.

"Let’s talk to our neighbor," Aling Nelia suggested to Mang Berto once more. "The factory could be affecting the sea."

But Mang Berto said, "It’s hard to gather those people. You know how busy everyone is. Besides the color and odor of the sea don’t change all that often."

Not much later, the clinic at Leila’s school was receiving many students who complained of coughing and dizziness. By then, people noticed how much more often the sea changed color and became foul-smelling.

At dusk one day, Mang Berto arrived from the sea looking sad.

"What’s wrong," Aling Nelia asked him.

"There’s almost nothing to catch out there," Mang Berto replied.

Silence reigned in the small household that evening. Mang Berto wouldn’t talk, and Leila knew he was worried. And so was her mother, though she didn’t say anything.

One day, the entire neighborhood went out to the shore to watch something they’d never before seen in their entire life: countless of fishes, all dead and floating.

"Enough!" cried one fisherman. "We know what is causing this. Why aren’t we doing anything?"

"We must stop the pollution of the sea," said another. "We must stop the oil factory from throwing wastes into the sea. That is what is causing this massive fish kill. It’s what is making our townfolk sick."

The fishers called the entire town to a meeting to discuss the problem. They formed the "United Fishermen of Limay," or UFL, with Mang Berto as president. They agreed to meet with the factory’s owner, Mr. Martinez.

Later at home, Mang Berto said to Aling Nelia, "I should have listened to you. If we had taken action to protect the sea from the start, this wouldn’t have happened."

Hearing this, Leila felt responsible as well. "I should have said something," she told herself, vowing never to keep silent when a problem crops up.

Mr. Martinez received the members of UFL and listened closely to what they had to say. He promised to look into their problem.

"We spent a lot of money to set up this factory," he told the townspeople.

"But it wouldn’t be right, Sir, if in keeping your factory running, you kill the fish and us in the process," an old fisherman said.

Mr. Martinez weighed his options. He realized the townsfolk were united in their clamor for a solution to their community’s pollution problem. He knew what power people had when they acted as one.

"I’m sure we can find a way to solve this problem," he told Mang Berto as they shook hands.

"Preferably soon, Sir," replied Mang Berto.

The community and Mr. Martinez are still talking, but one thing is certain: Mang Berto and his neighbors will never again be indifferent to what happens to their sea. They know that their effort to save the sea – and themselves – can only succeed if they worked together and remained united.          

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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