Saving Crabs from Drowning


My feet fall softly on yielding sand as I breathe in salt and fresh leaves.  All around me are hundreds of dwarf mangroves with roots falling midway from their trunks to the white sand like dark fountains.  And, as with the various fountains in parks, some of the mangrove root complexes are small and wide, others tall and narrow. Resting on top of these roots are boughs of crisp green leaves with a freshly-waxed sheen.

Here in the islet of Buntod in Masbate, I walk through a forest literally in the middle of the sea. Each evening these mangroves are swallowed by the waves, leaving only the tops of boughs visible. Though their roots look fragile at only one to three inches wide, most dig deep into the sand, keeping the mangroves stable against the daily sea assault.

I move closer to a tree as my friends, all walking their own paths among the mangroves, stop to look. A walnut-sized crab, gleaming a metallic blue violet, clutches on one of the spindly roots. It remains there, unmoving, curiously returning our stares with shiny black beads for eyes.

My attention is broken as a smaller violet crab, no bigger than a finger’s width, darts across the tree’s lower roots.

Thinking I might be on to something, I rush to the next closest tree and again find violet crabs – and this time, spotted brown hermit crabs as well.

With a new sense of mission and excitement, I go around with my friends, discovering one world after another.

But these worlds are not home only to crabs. I stop as I find a bright blue plastic bag dangling from a protruding mangrove root.

Come high tide, one of the crabs I see now might be engulfed by this plastic’s unfamiliar blue – a solid, unyielding blue devoid of oxygen. The bigger crabs might be able to tear through the plastic, while the smaller crabs will valiantly but uselessly fight their way out, their sharp but tiny claws too dull for the thick material.

Quickly, I pull down the plastic bag.

Looking around, I see some of my friends also with plastic in their hands.

Together, we all pick plastic bags, candy wrappers, soda cans and all the other trash we can find until our hands are too full to hold any more.

“I wish we have a sack for all these,” one of my friends wistfully blurts out.

And, as though an answer to his wish, a few steps ahead we find a sack lying conspicuously on the sand. It is the same shade of blue as the plastic bag I saw earlier.

Dissolving into laughter, we stuff the cornucopia of trash into the sack and resume our search for more. Later, we will be turning over the sack to the caretakers of the islet and I am left with the awe that we might have just saved a few lives – and worry that there are probably more we cannot.

I wrote this some years ago, before I started blogging. This was inspired during a volunteer peace camp in Masbate. 

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