Saturday, July 23, 2011
The Bajau Laut, or Bajo, are marine nomads thought to come from the Philippines, who for centuries have lived out their lives almost entirely at sea. In dugout canoes known as lepa lepa they ply the ocean between Malaysia, the Philippines and Indonesia, fishing with nets and lines.
They are also expert free divers, as can be seen in this image, taken in the waters off Wakatobi, south Sulawesi.
But their way of life is under threat. The WWF is working with the Wakatobi National Park Authority to prioritise marine conservation in the area. "The WWF is doing excellent work in creating a maritime park," commented Cliff Sather, author of The Bajau Laut. "Otherwise, the environmental situation is a disaster."
Local people are abandoning traditional fishing methods and turning to homemade fertiliser bombs and sodium cyanide to stun the fish. This damages coral reefs and can lead to loss of life.
"We have come across cyanide fishing in the Wakatobi islands, particularly for the grouper trade, and also some bomb fishing," comments Tim Coles of Operation Wallacea, an academic network that backs conservation efforts.
Unfortunately, they are not the only problems facing the reefs, he adds. "You could wipe out cyanide and bomb fishing and the reef fishery in the Wakatobi Islands would continue to collapse because of overfishing by techniques such as fish fences, bubu traps, gill nets, seine nets and so on."
The good news is that the Wakatobi reef fishery has a maximum sustainable yield that, potentially, is significantly higher than current catches. However, it needs time to recover.
To reduce the pressure on this marine ecosystem, The Operation Wallacea Trust, funded by the Darwin Initiative and Operation Wallacea, has been registering the fishers and their boats and plans to buy their fishing licences and compensate them with shares in a factory.
Highfield, Richard. 2011. "Free-diving Indian Ocean nomads under threat". New Scientist. Posted: July 11, 2011. Available online: http://www.newscientist.com/blogs/shortsharpscience/2011/07/free-diving-indian-ocean-nomad.html