For some people in this unique office, a day at work means getting up at the break of dawn to sail off to a nearby reef, and spend the rest of the day on an island in the sun, the salt crusting on their arms. Some stay behind at headquarters, tending saltwater tanks where colorful marine creatures reside. On the waves or onshore, these workers have special skills meant to sustain life in our vast and resource-rich oceans.
These are the people of the University of the Philippines Marine Science Institute-Bolinao Marine Laboratory (BML). As in leading scientific research institutions in Southeast Asia, BML has these dedicated employees who have made BML the efficient and dynamic institution that it is today.
Unlike typical UP employees, they ride speed boats to work, and have the ocean or marine water tanks as their offices. They use dive suits as their uniforms and dive gear as their gadgets. They also employ interesting specialized tools at work other than the regular calculators and staplers.
Renato Adolfo landed his first job at BML as a boatman. He then turned into a laboratory aide, spending most of his time focused on the hatchery laboratory. He primarily assists in all experiments assigned to him by various marine science scholars and researchers stationed at the research center. His latest task is with the ongoing giant clam project, from the spawning all the way to the settlement phase.
Handling the continuous sea cucumber and sea ranch projects, and the most recent invertebrate project under Prof. Marie Antonette Juinio-Meñez, is laboratory aide Tirso Catbagan. He is in charge of the spawning and restocking of sea cucumbers, as well as of managing a five-hectare sea ranch in coordination with a people’s organization in the area.
Alfonso Rubio Jr. keeps good company with every marine researcher or visitor at sea. Alfon is one of BML’s four boatmen who give smooth and safe rides to the giant clam nursery at Silaqui Island. Besides the boat rides, he heads the dive gear unit. He ensures the overall condition and maintenance of all diving apparatus, especially the boats and oxygen tanks which are refilled by BML’s own heavy-duty oxygen compressors.
BML’s longtime handyman is Christopher Diolazo. He takes care of both the electric and plumbing systems of the whole facility. Meanwhile, BML administrative officer Charina Caalim is the overall custodian of the research center. She manages all of BML’s engagements, support, and services from the use of the facility to project collaborations.
Brando Padilla is BML’s newest face, taking on an important task as a volunteer patroller at the giant clam nursery at Silaqui Island. Only this year, he decided to volunteer along with a few others who are all residents of the island to watch over the giant clams and protect them. At the same time, he is a regular member of Bolinao’s local government fishing patrol unit known as Bantay Dagat. He monitors the safety and fishing activities covering the fifteen-mile sea stretch from Silaqui Island to San Fernando, La Union’s boundary.
From watchers to trainers
Laboratory aides Renato and Tirso have been serving BML for 11 and 26 years, respectively. All these years have trained them in various aspects of marine research through their hands-on facilitation and assistance.
Surprisingly, both laboratory aides were able to discuss in scientific and descriptive detail the developmental stages of some marine species they have focused on for years, such as sea cucumbers and giant clams. They were also able to formulate their own observations, recommendations, and suggestions, to include government policies concerning marine management and conservation which may be able to improve existing ones.
They serve as trainers to various marine institutions such as SEAFDEC, and have also gone around the country as well as in Asia. “The years we spent here have really trained and shaped us,” Tirso gleefully emphasized. As non-UP contractuals, they still choose to stay at BML as they have breathed marine life for almost all of their lives. “I’ve grown old here and have come to love the job,” Renato said in recollection. They look forward to their work being valued and recognized, as they look forward to becoming regular employees in the University.
When asked what made them choose UP and why they stay for the longest of time at BML, Chris (30 years), Alfon and Charina (both at 13 years), and the recent BML volunteer Brando answered back in similar high spirits. They are happy to grow with BML and see how it has progressed and developed over the years. As Chris put it, “I was here even before this building was built. I installed the cables and the electricity, so I might as well stay on to make sure everything is okay.”
Local, UP pride
Chris could have found a job abroad, just like others at BML who could have received more lucrative and attractive job offers. However, they stayed at BML and humbly worked hard. The one thing that binds them and makes them take pride in their work is that they are part of UP. They very well know that through their own efforts, they contribute to making the University sustain its honor and excellence. In the same way, they all take pride being locals of Bolinao, able to add to their hometown’s prestige, identity, and preservation.
Brando dreams big for his little sitio in Silaqui Island. “I want to make sure that the island remains safe for our marine resources. For that to happen, and this is why I’m volunteering, I need to pass on my knowledge to the next generation. I want my children to pursue my love for the sea by studying Marine Science.”
They take pride in being part of that continuing legacy of both UP and the local government of Bolinao in advancing marine research as well preserving the seas, while bringing this awareness closer to the public.