Friday, July 01, 2011

A tour of a hatchery; lobsters, crabs and cukes

Our third day of diving in Claveria broke sunny, blue and calm. Diving in bright tranquil weather is aces over any other circumstance, especially when it comes to underwater photography; and ultimately, for me, taking pictures down there is what it’s all about.

Based on some earlier remarks I’d made in passing, Don knew I wanted to stop at the hatchery. We passed it every day on the way up the beach road to the lagoon.
The hatchery is a little more than halfway up the coast from the Bayview Inn if driving west on the gravel track to the Claveria lagoon.

He pulled into the hatchery driveway almost as an afterthought, just a few seconds before announcing that he intended to. I was pleased; looking forward to the chance to speak to a marine expert about what exactly was going on in the waters thereabouts. Maybe someone in the hatchery could tell us why the sealife was so meager in the lagoon area and completely missing just a couple miles from it up the beach.

Climbing out of the car, I tell everyone to sit tight until I can find out if we’ll be welcome or not. Three or four folks are standing out in front of their office building, probably curious to see who we are. I stop at the gate and request permission to enter. One of them nods and gestures to come on in. Waving my hand as I approach I call out a hello.

Shaking hands with the first fellow I come upon, I remove my ball cap with my left as an unconscious sign of respect, and continue to shake hands all around while I speak.

“Hi there guys. Hi. How are ya? Hey, we’re visiting the area for a few days from down south and just wondering if you might have the time to show us around your hatchery.” I ask literally with hat in hand.

The oldest looking of the group immediately answers agreeably, “Sure. Why not?” He turns to one of the other younger looking guys, I assume with instructions for his man to give us the nickel tour. I shake hands again with the youthful guide and find out his name is Jay. By this time Don has already joined us and is already meeting and greeting everyone as well.

With Jay leading, the three of us walk across a long wide stretch of close clipped grass inside the fenced hatchery enclosure to some open sided pavilions containing water-filled bathtub style concrete tanks.

Not wasting time I pepper Jay with one question after another, starting out asking if the entire shoreline is just as bereft of sealife as the “the dead zone” area appears to be. We explain then that we are recreational divers up from Pampanga to see what we can see along this section of the northern coast.

Surprisingly, he didn’t sugarcoat at all, telling us that overfishing hadn’t left much out there. I forget what he called the style of net fishing that he cited as being particularly destructive, but I’m sure he was referring to the massively long ones we constantly saw manhandled from the beach by up to 20 people.

To me, they look like trawler style filament nets adapted for use from the shore. They use several bangka boats to stretch them way out, mostly horizontal from shore, and then use a gang of strong backs to pull them in to the beach. The nets are hundreds of feet long and weighted on the bottom side.

Surely then, as these things drag and bump along the seafloor they rip and chew up the bottom, stirring sediment and catching anything and everything in its hyper-effective monofilament webbing.

Those nets explain why nothing is left. They even tear up any seaweed and all other life forms that live by clinging to the bottom. All that remains now are endless expanses of sterile sand.

The hatchery’s mission has little to do with restoring the natural undersea habitat. Both Jay and the hatchery’s sign out front announce that they raise high value species for release back into the sea for commercial purposes.

Check out the three videos. From what we saw, the place concentrates on cultivating crabs, lobsters, and sea cucumbers. Then again, we might not have seen everything.

The sea cucumbers I found hilarious. Jay pulled several of the phallic looking creatures from the water and each immediately began to squirt water from one end. I have no idea if it was the head or back end, but seeing them do that struck me hard in the funny bone and I could not stop giggling.

The hatchery’s crabs are equally funny and fascinating. As you can see in the video, this species is perfect for the sandy conditions prevalent to that region. . Jay demonstrates how they find their place in their world. Dropping them back into the water, in less than two seconds they back their way back into the soft sand, completely disappearing without a trace. I had Jay demonstrate the trick twice so Don could check it out too—very compelling stuff for someone who finds the natural world as intriguing as I do. I cringe watching the video now, listening to myself cackle-laughing at how the little crabs do their disappearing act.

We asked Jay if the entire coastline’s underwater environment was as dead as what we saw down at the eastern end of Claveria. He nodded, explaining that what we saw is typical of what we’d find no matter where we dive. But then, pointing east down the coast toward the lagoon, he said that there is a reef area over there still active with fish life.

Hearing Jay’s comment, Don and I nodded excitedly, with Don piping up, “That’s exactly the area where we dove yesterday. So you’re saying there is an actual reef out there? Because all we explored was the area just outside the lagoon along the shoreline.”

Jay explained that further out from shore, straight out from the lagoon is an actual reef that hasn’t yet been destroyed.

Don told our guide about the giant lobster hidden way back under the furthest reaches on the underside of a boulder, asking if there are any laws prohibiting the
use of spear guns to catch something like that. Jay informed us that there are no laws preventing anyone from taking anything. (I heard the implied, ‘and THAT is the problem.’

We left the hatchery thankful for the tour, as well as for the useful information. Unfortunately, just down the road we were about to have an encounter with another
government official that did not go nearly as swimmingly, at least it didn’t start out very pleasantly.

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