THE IRON PEO­PLE OF HAM­MER IS­LAND

The Un­der­wa­ter360 Ex­pe­di­tion to the Banda Sea dis­cov­ers a com­mu­nity flour­ish­ing on the slopes of an ac­tive vol­cano, guardians of a reef that at­tracts one of the world’s most im­pres­sive ham­mer­head ag­gre­ga­tions

Asian Diver (English) - - Man & Sea - Text by Alice Grainger Im­ages by Aaron Wong

IT SEEMS LIKE it would be tough liv­ing on a storm-swept is­land, days from civil­i­sa­tion, with no fresh wa­ter and lim­ited elec­tric­ity.

You would imag­ine that these con­di­tions would breed a hard­ness in peo­ple, and that for them ev­ery wak­ing mo­ment would be spent in the ser­vice of tasks re­lated to sur­vival.

So, imag­ine our sur­prise, when, on land­ing on the is­land of Serua we were met with a pretty vil­lage, its paths lined with brightly coloured flower beds, cloves dry­ing in the sun, and of­fers of re­fresh­ment in the form of fresh young co­conut and dried ba­nana. This was not what we had been ex­pect­ing.

THE EPIC JOUR­NEY

We are half­way through our epic Un­der­wa­ter360 Ex­pe­di­tion to the

Banda Sea. Aboard the beau­ti­ful, lux­ury live­aboard Sa­mam­baia we have been track­ing and doc­u­ment­ing the cetaceans which use this unique habi­tat, un­der the ex­pert guid­ance of Dr. Ben­jamin Kahn of APEX En­vi­ron­men­tal. The data we have been col­lect­ing is be­ing used in his on­go­ing re­search, as a means of bet­ter un­der­stand­ing the Banda Sea, thus gen­er­at­ing more sup­port for its protection. Blue whales have been re­ported as ag­gre­gat­ing here – stun­ning in­for­ma­tion for a species which is sup­posed to be soli­tary. We see a num­ber of them, calves and adults, as well as spot­ted and spin­ner dol­phins,

melon-headed whales, and tan­ta­lis­ing glimpses of orca. Be­tween the cetacean sur­veys, we are also div­ing some of the most re­mote, pris­tine reefs on the planet.

On board with us are some se­ri­ous div­ing in­dus­try heavy hit­ters, in­clud­ing Dada Li, the

ADEX Am­bas­sador of Free­d­iv­ing ; Aaron Wong, ADEX Am­bas­sador of Pho­tog­ra­phy ; and the multi-award­win­ning videog­ra­pher and free­d­iv­ing na­tional cham­pion,Pepe Ar­cos, who is doc­u­ment­ing the ex­pe­di­tion on film. (You can watch the doc­u­men­tary on YouTube. Just search for UW360

Banda Sea 2016!)

Ev­ery­one has been ea­gerly an­tic­i­pat­ing this stop on our jour­ney – the ham­mer­head ag­gre­ga­tions off the coast of Serua are a well-kept se­cret, and the fu­ture of these gath­er­ings, these reefs, is firmly in the hands of the peo­ple liv­ing on this is­land.

LIV­ING ON THE FRONT LINE

Of course, for the peo­ple liv­ing on Serua, life is hard, there is no deny­ing it. With few boats com­ing past, pro­duce like su­gar, rice and cof­fee is hard to come by. With no source of fresh wa­ter on the is­land, drink­ing wa­ter is a pre­cious com­mod­ity, as is petrol for their few gen­er­a­tors. Weather here can be ex­treme. But there is a light­ness about them, a pos­i­tiv­ity that is im­pos­si­ble to ig­nore. Un­der the gen­tle lead­er­ship of a man who has been re-elected ev­ery four years for the last 16, the lit­tle vil­lages here seem to be flour­ish­ing. This is a knowl­edge­able, co­he­sive, and ded­i­cated com­mu­nity. Young adults re­turn from their stud­ies in Am­bon to live here and raise fam­i­lies. For health and heal­ing they rely on hun­dreds of na­tive medic­i­nal plants, the uses of which were dis­cov­ered by the first set­tlers here some five or six gen­er­a­tions ago. They grow co­conuts, and the cloves that once con­ferred such fame to these “Spice Is­lands”.

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