Photo Essay: Remarkable Images of Seaweed Farmers in Indonesia

Balinese Seaweed FarmersThere are times when you see a scene and you know it would make an amazing photo story. Last fall when I was visiting Lembongan Island, Bali, Indonesia for the first time I came across seaweed farms. As a westerner, from a so called developed country, I never really gave much thought to seaweed. It was one of those things that I knew had at least marginal value as Nori (wrappers for sushi) and at the periphery of my awareness I knew that it used as additive to food and cosmetics but, like so many things, I took it for granted and never gave any thought that there may be a whole group of real people working their asses off, for pennies a day, to provide me with a stable foam on my beer.

Balinese Seaweed Farmers

Seaweed farming is hard work. The crop can only be tended at low tide so instead of synchronizing your life with calendar and clock, you synchronize your life to the rhythms of nature and the tides. If the tides are out during the day you get to do back breaking work in the heat of the sun. If the tides are out at night you get to struggle under lamplight until the tide rises or your work is done. Different types of seaweed grow at different rates so you have to decide whether to grow the fast growing, but less valuable, brown seaweed or grow the other more valuable variants that take longer to grow.

Balinese Seaweed Farmers

Is if that wasn’t enough to worry about climate change is starting to have and impact on yields and, even in remote Indonesia, globalization and fickle market forces reach uninvited into your life and determine whether or not you make even a meager profit from your 10 meter by 10 meter plots of marshland. Sadly on occasion when yields and prices are low, seaweed farmers are forced to eat their crop for sustenance. When times are great they can make enough to eke out a lesser lever of poverty. Collectively the farmers on the three Balinese islands of Nusa Lembongan, Nusa Penida and Nusa Ceningan used to produce of 40 tons of seaweed a month, but changing weather patterns have dropped the yield to around 25 tons. The seaweed has not been growing normally and much of it dies and begins rotting in the sea before it becomes ready to harvest.

Balinese Seaweed Farmers

As a photographer I was lucky because “golden hour” coincided with low tide. I just took my equipment out and started making photos. Even though I was uninvited, after a period of warming up, I was soon accepted, tolerated and even welcomed. After a while some of the farmers started laughing with (at) me and wanting to pose just for the novelty of being noticed and having their picture made. I guess they weren’t used to seeing people wading out into the water to see their work, connect on a human level and take an interest in their lives. I was elated. Once again I was humbled, reminded of how privileged I am and how lucky I am to be enjoying this little retirement adventure I call life.

Balinese Seaweed Farmers

If you would like to see some more images in this collection please check out my (work in progress) photography site Journeyman Images.

Balinese Seaweed FarmersBalinese Seaweed Farmers

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Author: Jonathan Look

In 2011 Jonathan Look decided to change his life and pursue adventures instead of comfort and possessions. His goal is to travel the world solo; one country at a time, one year at a time. To accomplish this he got rid of most of his possessions, packed up what little he saw as necessities and headed out. His goal is to spend ten years discovering new places, meeting new people and taking the time to learn about them, their values and their place on this tiny planet. He embraces the philosophy that says a person is the sum of their experiences and rejects the fraud of modern consumerism that makes people into slaves of their consumption. He doesn't intend to be modern day ascetic, just more mindful of his place in the world and to make decisions according to that new standard.

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