Seaweed farming in Halmahera, Indonesia

Scubazoo photographer Adam broadbent relates his experience photographing a seaweed farm in remote Indonesia.

The bulk of my trip to Halmahera involved exploring the islands and reefs in the area to discover dive sites which would appeal to visiting dive tourists. However on one occasion the team and I got more of a cultural experience.

In the lagoons of the Goraici region off the island of Halmahera in northern Indonesia, a small village has set aside many acres of shallow protected waters to farm seaweed. Seaweeds have many uses, including food, and are harvested for extracts including alginate, agar and carrageenan – all gelatinous substances which are commercially important as food additives and also used in the pharmaceutical industry.

The farming method is very simple. Local Indonesians set up long monofilmaent lines for the seaweed to grow on. Each line is roughly 50 metres long mounted on sturdy poles at each end. Seedlings are attached to the lines, which are suspended by attaching buoyant plastic bottlesĀ  at intervals along the line. Navigating between the lanes in their small hand-carved boats, the farmers dive down and collect the seaweed that has fallen off the line and is now resting on the sandy bottom.

Seaweed farming provides a very sustainable source of food and income for these communities and is a viable alternative livelihood for coastal fisherman, who might have otherwise resort to destructive fishing practices such as cyanide or dynamite fishing. There is still some environmental impact however, as many farmers cut down mangrove trees to use as support structures for the lines.

Photographing within the seaweed farms was a magical experience. The long filament lines reminded me of a swimming pool but instead of Olympic swimmers, Indonesians dragging canoes would trawl down the lanes, occasionally duck-diving down for seaweed on the lagoon floor. The lanes near me became particularly congested as a large number of canoes ,with locals ranging from 8 to 50 years old, arrived to see what I was up to. It always amazes me how people leading such simple hand-to-mouth lives can be so friendly, so giving and so happy.

By the time we had finished shooting the tide had dropped so low our path out of the lagoon was blocked. We were directed into the maze of mangroves that would apparently lead us out the other side of the cluster of islands and lagoons. It turned into a grueling journey as we sweated under the midday sun, swatted mosquitos and regularly had to get out of the small boat to push it through extremely shallow areas. Eventually we returned to our liveaboard and, although a bit sunburnt and dehydrated, it was generally agreed that the visit to this community was the highlight of our expedition around Halmahera.

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