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
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”.