The engine revved to life, sputtering twice or thrice. I tried to sit comfortably on the dewy, wooden planks because it was time to go. The chilly, early, still dark morning couldn’t dampen my spirit as our bangka, a small fishing boat, started its voyage from the serene estuary to the wide sea.
It was a fine morning. The water was tranquil and glassy, and cotton candy colors started to emerge on the still sleepy sky. As we traveled away from the shore, I noticed the other people on boats not so far from us that seemed to be rocked by the gentlest of waves. They were here for one reason just like us—to fish.
Although I have lived my whole life in this faraway town in the northwestern part of the country where we are surrounded by two great bodies of water, the Lingayen Gulf and the West Philippine Sea, I had not had the chance to do fishing before. So, when one of my church brothers invited me to fish, or “agkawil” in the local language, I said yes without any hint of hesitation.
I was warned that being on an immobile boat in the middle of the sea would be a dizzying experience. I half expected it once the engine was turned off when we reached our fishing spot where fisherfolk are allowed to fish, and the boat started waltzing with the waves. But luckily, I didn’t throw up. The boat had an old, six-liter water bottle filled with sand and stones that was dropped to the seabed to serve as an anchor; attached to it was a simple rope connected to a yellow mooring ball. The sea felt like a breathing giant underneath us, alive and inhaling and exhaling slowly.
The first lesson that fishing taught me was to be extremely patient. We had shrimps the size of my pinky finger as bait. I got one, divided it into three parts, one for each of the hooks for my three-hooked fishing line. A four-inch steel bar was connected at the end of the line, so it would drop faster to the seabed where fish would be lured.
I started unraveling the fishing line into the water even if I couldn’t fathom its depth, as I watched these several bluish bioluminescent organisms that seemed to be saying hello. My companions told me the cord would quiver once the fish was baited and it tried to forcefully get itself off the hook. And when I felt that, I had to jerk my arm upward with the fishing line in my hand to make sure the fish was hooked securely. Simply pull in the string, and then detach the fish from the hook.
But it was hard work, and easier said than done. I patiently waited for that feeling of tremor, but I felt nothing different. So, when I started to feel a slight vibration, I jolted my arm upward immediately, pulling the fishing line in and agonizingly finding that the three pieces of bait were still there.
But, finally, it happened. Voila! My first catch was a small fish called bisugo (goatfish). If only I could jump with joy on the boat! Then, we caught papakol (triggerfish) and many other kinds of fish afterwards. In no time, we had caught enough. Honestly, I felt like a kid who was brought to an incredible amusement park just to be acquainted with incredible things. It was a wonderful experience. My God, the world here was still beautiful.
I could already feel the heat of the sun on my nape and arms when we finished fishing. My tummy had also started complaining of hunger. As we headed home and as we approached the long stretch of coastline with the coconuts and white sand of a tropical paradise, our home, I realized so many things, chiefly: Perhaps in this lifetime I will always be in awe of the beauty of the sea, but will never be able to fully comprehend the complexity that lies deep in it.
Much of it will always remain a frightening yet interesting mystery to me. I know it is alive just like us. It is living just like us, or it is trying anyway.
But despite that beauty and mystery, the problem of plastics, including COVID-19 waste, is still one of the most pressing issues we don’t want to talk about. And this very problem is not only affecting this breathing giant—it’s killing it, and it’s killing us.
We must protect the sea that helps us breathe, gives us so much, and makes our planet blue, just like how we protect the things that are important to us. Yes, the sea still teems with marine life, but what happens when it finally stops breathing?