Just before Christmas, Blair and I took a trip 5 hours by land up to the nearest open coast line from Manila, the Zambales coast. I didn’t sleep well in the heat of our little bungalow there, so I forced myself out of bed early to walk the beach and catch the best light. As usual I was rewarded by encounters with many friendly strangers strolling along the beach as they went about their early morning routine. I usually love to sleep in if I can, but even still, I have to admit that there really is something ethereal about early mornings if you make the effort – the world just seems calmer and more hopeful at that time of day.
Among those I happened upon as I strode the beach were fishermen readying their boats for the sea. I couldn’t help myself from asking a bunch of questions about their rather impressive homemade engines. Loud as all hell, but sturdy and affordable.
I was shocked to hear that some of them disappear over the horizon for over four weeks at a time aboard their tiny crafts. They spoke of how in recent years fishermen have had to take on a lot more risks to bring home the same size catch they’re used to, feeding their families and turning a small profit. The dwindling of reef fish stocks have pushed fishermen further out into the deep and dangerous ocean, without equipment, safety gear or radios to watch over them. They admitted it’s not uncommon for boats to go missing.
The fishermen themselves seemed okay with the situation, as if risking death was an inevitable part of their way of life and earning a living. But I can’t help but feel the injustice of it – like it resembles a major failing in our economic system somehow. I can’t see it as anything but a breach of our basic human right to have access to safe and decent work. No one should have to risk their life for their job.
The ocean is such a beautiful and interconnected place. As I walked back to our bungalows, camera in hand, I pondered the injustice of people who’s live depend on the diminishing resources that come from an ocean that is struggling to sustain the demands placed on it. But what options do they have? Other than to cast off the shore and set sail for the horizon, as they always have.