At Bucknell last semester, I researched the devastating effects of dynamite fishing on the marine life in the Philippines. Local fishermen use homemade explosives to kill the fish and scoop them out of the water. While the method is initially effective, blast fishing permanently destroys the coral and plant life. Decades of slow coral growth gone in seconds.
In Lewisburg, Pennsylvania the experience was academic and abstract. About 30 meters off the coast of Bantayan Island, the experience was directly in front of my fogged mask. We started snorkeling where the coral and marine life was still intact, taking the underwater camera down with us. Thick forests of blue coral appeared out of the water beneath my fins. Eager clownfish ventured out of their sea anemone homes to welcome us into their liquid world. I swam toward Carlie and turned around to see a giant jellyfish floating by- a dangerous ethereal orb.
We snorkeled at another location before moving toward shore. I noticed the coral and large fish begin to disappear. The coral forests looked as if they had been deforested by small underwater loggers. The starfish we found were exposed in their barren landscape. If this had been my first snorkeling experience, I wouldn’t have missed the fish and plant life. But after seeing such beauty minutes before, I felt robbed by past explosions caused by faceless fishermen.
The importance of the School of the SEA has never been clearer. Each marine protected area (MPA) the team organizes helps to protect and regrow this underwater paradise. The environment is something worth protecting today and everyday, yet my mind returns to small fishing communities using blasting as a last resort. Are homemade bombs the only option? Is it right for environmentalists to protect the natural environment at the risk of others profits? Is it our duty to provide alternative livelihoods for these people or focus on the coral we fight to save?
There are no clear answers. The only thing I have found consistent throughout my time in the Philippines has been the relationship between human activity and the natural world. Our every action sets off a ripple that extends far beyond our limited knowledge of Earth yet our lack of answers is no excuse for inaction or the future will come too soon.
My week at Granada Beach Resort was better than I could have possibly imagined. After the first dive, Stu and I went on four more over the next couple of days. Each time we strapped our gear on and swam down the sea wall, fish and corals I had never seen before appeared in front of my mask. No dive was the same. Whenever I tilted my head back and peered up at the sun’s rays, the surface seemed so far away. By the 5th dive I could set up and take down all the equipment by myself. I remembered to equalize the pressure in my ears during the descent and breathe with a slow even rhythm. But I never did get used to the beauty under the surface of the water.
Today, Anne’s niece and husband’s family came over for food and a swim in the pool. The husband and family are from Laguna Beach, California but come back for a month or so every year to the Philippines. It was nice to see some fellow Americans on lovely Independence Day. Happy Fourth of July! While everyone was sitting by the pool and drinking some San Miguel’s, I slipped away down to the beach to snorkel one last time. The day had been hot and humid so the ocean water felt cool on my skin.
I swam, or floated, for about 30 minutes before moving back toward shore. The coral under my feet changed back into sand and sea grass. I turned around one last time to see the reef before moving toward land. Out of the corner of my eye, the large green shell and fins waving slowly in the blue water. It was the biggest sea turtle I had ever seen.
The shell was about 2 feet long and blended perfectly with the murky grass. I would have missed the animal completely if it hadn’t decided to come up for air. As the turtle’s giant body moved toward the surface we breathed in unison, making eye contact just above the surface of the water. It was beautiful. Stu knows of a couple turtles in the area, he later told me. I said I would name the turtle Katelyn and he let me.
Just like Atty. Oposa said, appreciation is everything. How can people expect to love and care for beauty they have never seen? Tomorrow I’ll be on my way to Bantayan Island to visit the field station of LNF and the School of the SEAs. Excited to see the field station but sad to end such a great week.
It’s turtles like these that remind you why the world is worth saving.