Wakatobi, Indonesia – They have lived on the sea for centuries, but overfishing now threatens the unique culture of the nomadic ocean dwellers known as the Bajau Laut.
Found on Indonesia’s southern Sulawesi island, the Bajau have roamed its waters for at least 400 years, living on boats or in stilt villages out at sea, and relying on its resources for subsistence. But because of extensive fishing, the once bountiful ocean can no longer support the Bajau’s aquatic way of life.
Marine biologists and divers from around the world are drawn to Wakatobi, a three-island complex off the Sulawesi coast.
“Used to be I could fill my whole canoe with fish,” 17-year-old Ali says, surveying the glorious out-at-sea view with dismay. “These days, I’m lucky to sell five groupers by evening.”
Faced with dwindling catches, other young Indonesians may simply turn to land-based livelihoods such as farming or retail. But that is not an option for Ali. Born a Bajau, or “sea-gypsy”, he sees himself committed to a wholly ocean-going life.